Review – Taboo, Brixton Club House

Monday 1 October 2012

Can it really be ten years since “The Boy George Musical” flounced onto the London stage?

Can it really be over 30 years since the New Romantic movement kicked off?

Why does time contract as you get older? Except when you sit through over-protracted shows like Taboo, obviously.

Director Christopher Renshaw creates a suitably louche clubby vibe by relocating it to the site-specific Brixton Club House which may sound like a good idea but it also offers up some of the worst sight lines ever. Well, perhaps the ‘Premium Seats’ offered a good view, we couldn’t possibly comment. Ironically The Producers – the show that also spawned that heinous and contagious seating moniker – also gave us Max Bialystock’s immortal line “You’re looking at the man who invented Theatre in the Square! Nobody had a good seat!”

So anyhoo, cast your minds back to the early 1980s; a fictional aspiring photographer Billy comes to London falls in with likes of androgynous one-and-a-bit-hit-wonder Marilyn (Adam Bailey), Mud Club promoter Philip Sallon, outrageous performance artist Leigh Bowery* and Blitz club doorman and Visage (‘Fade to Grey’) lead singer Steve Strange (Owain Williams). Not all about the Boy George then. Perhaps if it had been we’d all have got out of Brixton and been tucked up in our beds sooner. Yes our clubbing days – such as they were – are well and truly over.

If only it had all been about Sallon. He’s even funnier than Phil remembered from the 2002 run. Paul Baker recreates his brilliant Olivier Award-winning performance as if to the Betty Bourne born. Despite a touchingly sung ‘Petrified’ showing hidden depths beneath his surface shallows he’s mainly bitchily witty and pushes the boundaries of political correctness with some updated and anachronistic barbs – including unprintable snipes at Brixton and the ill-fated Broadway run of Taboo – working the audience by offering fishy canapés with a drizzle of acidic put-downs. If there’s no such thing as a good seat, there’s no such thing as a safe one either. If you’re not feeling peckish and thick-skinned beware.

The music’s often rather catchy – especially the opening number – but some of Boy George‘s written-for-the show songs seem a little too incongruously show-tuney against the couple of better-known pop anthems. There are far too many numbers, perhaps those scissors should have taken time out from the panty-hose and parachute pants and made other judicious snips.

The flaccid book (Mark Davies Markham) – despite it’s catty one-liners – bumbles along encompassing George’s early dealings with the press, gay-bashing, Bowery sitting for Lucien Freud’s portraits and his death from AIDS-related illness to the chirpily uplifting wave-you-arms-in-the-air finale.

The set – which also utilises the bar and the Premium Seating tables as stages – is an appropriate catwalk through the audience but all too frequently you’re left looking around to see who’s speaking or singing as the action’s too often masked by performers or pillars or those seated in front of you; presumably making some of the dialogue and lyrics inaudible is a deliberate ruse to add to the club atmosphere.

This is a shame as there’s plenty of good singing voices on offer. Sarah Ingram as Billy’s mother Josie, I’d Do Anything finalist Niamh Perry as Billy’s girlfriend Kim and Whingers-approved Katie Kerr as Big Sue (Tilley) are particularly effective and clear. Matthew Rowland has more than a passing visual resemblance to a young George and Sam Buttery makes a remarkable and impressively confident stage debut – dissing memorably in eye-poppingly outlandish attire – as Bowery even if he does seem to be channelling Matt Lucas (the original stage Bowery).

If Taboo reveals anything it’s that the young could achieve fame using imagination rather than TV talent shows and that memorable pop culture movements (though ‘Gangnam Style‘ offers some hope) more or less ground to a halt after New Romanticism. Or maybe that’s just a sign of our age. It surely took an age telling us though.

More dragged out than dragged-up.

Footnotes

*It was all a bit strange for Phil who has met a few of the characters portrayed in Taboo, including Leigh Bowery who he chatted to and danced with at Kinky Gerlinky once. If his memory serves him correctly he was nearly naked save for a sequinned orange and green gimp mask and spangly merkin. Phil has no recollection what Mr Bowery was wearing. Ah, happy days!

For the record here’s the Whingers in the 80s. Andrew being newly romantic and Phil (in red) disporting himself in a somewhat unseemly fashion at Kinky Gerlinky (late 80s?-hard to remember).

Rating

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