Mulan Rouge, Vaults Theatre

Dining theatre is back! Actually it has been back for a while and back in August 2021 Mulan Rouge was the trendsetter. After Covid are theatre goers ready to be in close proximity to each other?

After a strong first run in summer 2021 ShayShay’s Mulan Rouge takes the classic Disney film (I found out recently it was based on a poem) and for reasons I am not entirely sure of moves the war zone to Moulin Rouge in Paris. What the audience gets is a campy, drag extravaganza. Ella Cumber stars as Mulan, singleton who after yet another war is declared disguises herself as her father to head to Paris to fight the huns and maybe in the depths of the Moulin Rouge she will find love.

This is also a dining theatre experience and it suffers as many dining shows do with that initial welcoming space. The backless benches and tiny bar (especially on a press night with unlimited drinks for reviewers) is no welcoming. It wasn’t always clear what part of the space was for patrons. A fellow guest panicked that a small snack offered at this stage was the dining experience.

After a practical and unusual practice where names were “called out like we were in a concentration camp” as my companion said and of course my name was called out first. The menu is French themed and impressive, both in its portions and serving. It nicely breaks up the acts of the story and I’ve previously found dining theatre to be clumsy, people are keen to eat but there is a limited time to perform the show. Mulan Rouge avoids this by running at about 3 hours. Usually I would question if a show needed to be that long but Mulan Rouge is a fun cabaret show.

The focus is on camp, drag and performance. It is crude but conscientious, such as its outfit policy which discourages cultural appropriation and is unashamedly aware that this Chinese tale has a very white audience. The British drag scene isn’t particularly racially diverse so seeing Cumber make a very good Drag King was refreshing. I adored her scenes with Grace Kelly Miller, as Ginger, the Satine of the Mulan Rouge. Crucially the show encompassed all aspects of drag and cabaret and felt like an inclusive experience, at a time when theatre doesn’t always feel like it wants to include everyone. Theatre is expensive, it feels quite limiting in terms of what is on offer and Mulan Rouge isn’t the most bold show but it is doing something risky and different.

This show felt like a gateway to seeing more drag and cabaret acts for traditional theatre audiences, which a dining show like this is going to attract and whilst it was clearly a lot for some audience members, a few leaving once the meal was over, I can see this show having a loyal audience who return regularly (which is how immersive experiences make their money). My main criticism is that there isn’t much change for audiences to be interactive. It didn’t feel like there was even an encouragement for audiences to stay and have a few drinks and being part of a show like this is much more important than observing a show like this.

Mulan Rouge is on until 28 August. General admission from £20, dining tickets from £45

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