Surrounded by fabulous décor and a veil of haze, the experience of Mulan Rouge was immersive from the moment I entered The Vaults. This quirky venue is an ideal home for a show of such raunchy fabulosity, and I found myself instantly enthused. Drinks and appetisers were available on arrival, and I was particularly taken by the creative and unusual concoctions.
The production takes place across two stages, the first of which has the audience seated in a horseshoe shape. Here we meet Mulan herself (Ella Cumber); lamenting her lack of a husband, Mulan calls upon her ancestors – the audience – to help her out, despite them being surprisingly Caucasian. À la pantomime, audience members were soon joining in with the actors’ banter; the jokes are expertly tailored to the millennial and gen-Z audience, poking fun at stereotypes surrounding such issues as race and sexuality. The first act ends with the arrival of IFU soldiers General Lee (Carmella Brown), Private Dancer (Helena Fox), and Major Inconvenience (Lizzy Cox). In order to protect her father and defeat the huns – snaps! – Mulan must disguise herself and travel to Paris.
On to the second part: a banquet hall doubling as a traverse stage. Since these seats were assigned, the transition was a little awkward; names were called and tickets checked, although this likely provided Mulan with the necessary time to get into boy-drag. The staging of the Moulin Rouge (a heart-plastered windmill) was certainly impressive, and the prospect of being served dinner only added to my enthusiasm.
Arriving at the Moulin, the audience is greeted by the glamorous Madame (Ruby Wednesday) and her go-go girls Roxy (Brett Sinclair), Ruby (Daisy Porter), and Ginger (Grace Kelly Miller). The show instantly shifts up a notch from naughty to nasty, in the nicest way. Glitzy and glamorous, the cabaret had the audience cheering for more. Costume and characterisation was excellent, and I particularly enjoyed the chemistry between Mulan and Ginger. The cast and crew deserve extra commendation for the complexity of drag makeup and costuming, particularly Cumber’s gender-bending transformation.
The twists and turns of Mulan Rouge are extremely entertaining, each performer able to hold the stage and captivate the audience with ease. We see the girls, guards, and Mulan finding their feelings for each other while challenging the norms of gender and sexuality. It is extremely refreshing to see romances that defy heteronormative conventions, combined with humour that doesn’t put anybody down. The balance between music, dance, and story progression made for a titillating and compelling production, interspersed with the delivery of food and drinks. The food was restaurant quality, and I was very pleased with the availability of vegetarian options. The on-site bar certainly enhanced my experience, and the show is an excellent embodiment of post-cocktail excitement.
Risqué and tongue-in-cheek, Mulan Rouge quickly establishes itself as a fun night out. The cast were incredibly strong, and I thoroughly enjoyed its parodies of popular culture. This show is an excellent specimen of London’s queer theatre, its audience experiencing journeys from China to France, from enemies to lovers, and from woo! to awwwh. Viewers can expect to be wined, dined, and absolutely dazzled.
Written, Directed and Choreographed by ShayShay
Produced by The Vaults
Set and Costume by Christine Ting – Huan 挺欢 Urquhart
Lighting Design by Clancy Flynn
Sound Design by Daffyd Gough
Choreography by Alisa James
Mulan Rouge plays at The Vaults until 28 August. Further information and bookings can be found here.