Mulan Rouge at The Vaults – Review – ★★★★
A genre-bending, drag musical, supper club mash-up, which will win over even the hardest of hearts!
Deep in the rumbling bowels beneath Waterloo – in the home of the much missed Vault Festival which, we hope, will return in 2023 – a surprise awaits those willing to take a punt on what might sound like a joke that went to far: yes, that’s right, this is the mash-up of Mulan and Moulin Rouge that you never knew you needed in your life!
After a breezy intro from our hero Mulan in an atmospheric Chinese cabaret bar-style space, the audience is invited – individually, by name, a little jarringly – to move through to the main space: a cavernous banqueting hall with a central runway and stages at either end. Dominating the room, reminding us that we’re not in Leake Street anymore, is that evocative, glowing, red windmill. The scene is set.
And so is the menu! Starters – for those who have stumped up the cash for dinner tickets – are served without further ado, in our case a Mushroom & Celeriac Pate. The bar, behind the windmill, is open throughout the show, and there’s time to line-up a few bevvies before the story kicks back in.
Between courses, we’re treated to the hilarious story of Ella Cumber’s Mulan who finds herself – in the guise of her father – somehow embroiled in a series of mistaken identity farces at the Moulin Rouge, mistaken for General Lee (a role share for Grace Kelly Miller and Carmella Brown) and therefore taking the Ewen McGregor role from Moulin Rouge.
Elsewhere, there’s a sublimely silly supporting cast including Helena Fox and Lizzy Cox as the incomparable Private Dancer and Major Inconvenience, and overseeing all the gender-switch mayhem is Ruby Wednesday as Madame, who doubles as our Emcee and summons our main courses and deserts.
That food arrives just at the right time, helping to pace the show through what could feel like a long three hours in the wrong hands. Our main course of Smoked Hasselback Celeriac was a showstopper in itself, a revelation for anyone who feels like they’ve seen everything the celeriac has to offer – though, perhaps militant vegans would be put off to find Confit Chicken in the bottom layer of the same stack of steamer baskets containing their veggie food. The dessert was a safe but effective Double Chocolate & Butterscotch Beetroot Brownie – just the right richness to finish of the meal (and leaving space, for those so inclined, for a few post-prandial cocktails).
Some may sniff at the thought of spending three hours – and a wad of cash – in a space which has established itself more as a home for fringe-style (and fringe-priced) ents – but Mulan Rouge successfully pulls off the feat of providing an all-inclusive night of dining and entertainment.
The performances are campy and trashy and all kinds of fantastic – and though the increasing atmosphere of frivolity is at least partly the result of an encouragement to hit the bar between ‘acts’, this is a show that knows exactly what it is, and does it damned well.