Book: Mark Davies Markham
Music &lyrics : Boy George
Director: Christopher Renshaw
Reviewer : Jonathan Grant
Taboo is an updated and re-imaged take on a show that first arrived in London a decade ago. Staged upon an intriguing catwalk that seductively threads its way through the audience exploiting every facet of this unusual venue’s intimacy, one senses that director Renshaw, who created the original concept of the show with Boy George in the last millennium, is delivering authentic excellence
Paul Baker reprises the rôle of Phillip Sallon that he created in 2002. Act one opens with his Ode to Attention Seekers and his command of the audience is startling. His make up is vivid with his perfect poise and movement setting the tone for the production’s descent into the sexually ambivalent world of London’s club scene.
The show’s story follows rookie photographer Billy who we meet living with his parents. As the programme notes comment, it’s Billy’s lens that captures the world of the 1980s that surrounds him. One of the BBC’s Josephs, Alistair Brammer plays Billy with just the right combination of strength, naivete and curiosity. His mum and dad are the West End stalwarts Sarah Ingram and Michael Matus. Ingram’s performance as a mother who initially struggles to accept her son’s sexuality is touchingly crafted, while Matus portrays the misogynist and intolerant father with a chilling degree of slobbish ordinariness. Matus plays two other small but critical rôles in the show with breathtakingly slick costume and make-up changes.
Sallon introduces Billy to the hedonistic world of Boy George and his assistant Kim where love soon blossoms between the photographer and the girl. While Kim is attracted to Billy, so too is Boy George. Billy becomes an emotional pinball ricocheting between his desire for Kim and finding the sexual attentions of the singer irresistible. As he deflowers Kim, so in turn is he deflowered by Boy George. Playing Kim, Niamh Perry a BBC Nancy and now a young and accomplished West End star, is a convincingly vulnerable young adult. She sings Pretty Lies, in which she confronts Billy’s betrayal of her, with a vocal performance that is as powerful as it is pained.
Matthew Rowland quite simply IS Boy George. Making his professional debut, Rowland evokes the singer’s immediately recognisable look, style and affectation. He charts George’s rise to fame and drug fuelled collapse in a tour de force performance. For those old enough to remember the 80s, to look at Rowland is to step back in time. Leigh Bowery is a slightly lesser known character from that era who ran the Taboo Club. Obese, flamboyant and literally larger than life, Sam Buttery ( a finalist on BBC’s The Voice ) is yet another professional debutante who dominates his scenes with confidence and clarity. His remarkable make up changes, designed by Christine Bateman, expertly applied by backstage assistants from Greasepaint school. Owain Williams as Steve Strange and Adam Bailey as Marilyn complete the set of instantly recognisable faces of the age, each captured in performances that combine both character and caricature. Anne Vosser’s casting has been exceptional.
Together with Bronia Buchanan, Danielle Tarento has again produced a theatrical masterpiece, supported by talented creatives. Mike Nicholls’ costumes evoke both Punk and New Romanticism. Howard Hudson lights the confined spaces of the club ingeniously and Graham Simpson’s sound design ensures that the cast are clearly heard against the sound of Matt Smith’s three piece band, while choreographer Frank Thompson’s dance exploits every aspect of the performance space.
Blending fable with fact and new talent with established troupers, this flawless production is quite possibly one of the best shows to open in London this year.