Nothing is at seems in Angelique, a spectacular comedy drama that is a journey through the inner workings of Angelique’s mind as well as the venue, Her Majesty’s Theatre.
It seems local theatre group isthisyours? are too ambitious for their own good when you take your seat in Her Majesty’s Theatre. Only four or so rows in the middle of the venue are filled with audience members, the rest of the seats are empty. Have they misread their potential audience numbers? At least the ushers are happy, as they guide people to their seats in an overly exuberant manner, which puts the audience in a relaxed and jovial state of mind.
A note for an audience member to read, the first of many, drops from the high ceiling like a boxing mic before a title fight to prepare us for the night’s performance, as if to say: this will not be a run-of-the-mill production. When the performance gets under way, it seems straight-forward enough. A striking orange simple set design by Jonathon Oxlade showcases the ‘70s retro daggy-cool he has perfected for Windmill Theatre Co. shows such as Girl Asleep to house a seemingly typical family drama written by Duncan Graham and directed by Tessa Leong.
Angelique (Jude Henshall) seems a normal inquisitive teen, bright eyed but embarrassed by her parents, especially her daggy dad (a hilarious Louisa Mignone). Her mum (Anna Steen) is bitter and throws shade at her husband and this tension affects their child. But things take a darker turn when we discover Angelique’s sister is missing and there is something about her dad’s job that is a tad unnerving.
A parrot, which flies into the house, exacerbates the tension. When caged, it speaks (or mimics) a bizarre language that Angelique has heard before, when her dad was on the phone talking about work.
In a dream sequence the parrot escapes the cage to guide and advise Angelique. With the look and moves of a glam rock drag queen who croons like a seedy Las Vegas lounge singer, the parrot (a wonderfully over the top Ellen Steele) doesn’t seem the most trustworthy spirit or dream guide.
Back to reality and before too much is revealed by the caged animal, Angelique’s dad abruptly, and shockingly, puts an end to the secrets escaping the cage. This moment is literally a show-stopper, a moment where the audience is no longer a passive sitting one, as the enthusiastic ushers tell us to get out of our seats: it’s time to explore.
Without giving too much away, the fourth wall isn’t just broken like a Funny Games wink to the camera but completely trashed, as the audience watches the performance from side of stage while the ushers dispel the theatre’s tricks and unlock potential character motivations before we move again and again and again.
And it’s hilarious. Though the narrative makes way for the spectacle, this matters naught as you explore the venue and interact with the cast. It’s an engaging experience that is, at times, uncomfortable, but completely unforgettable.
Angelique is innovative theatre at its most entertaining. Your sense of scale and place is upended and all the tricks and performances (especially Henshall in the title role) are expertly delivered as you get lost in this strange theatre world. Angelique reinforces that nothing is as it seems, especially when it’s in front of your eyes.
Angelique continues at Her Majesty’s Theatre until Saturday, October 21
Photography: Cynthia Gemus