Thursday 10 January 2013

Taboo - 2013 cast

Brixton Club House, London


Book: Mark Davies Markham
Music & lyrics : Boy George
Director: Christopher Renshaw

Jordan-Luke Gage as Marilyn
Chris Renshawe’s site specific revival of Taboo at the Brixton Club House, set an ambitious aim for an off West End production even with its initial longer than usual performance run of three months. That run has itself now been extended to six months, with some cast changes, which speaks volumes for the foresight of producers Danielle Tarento and Bronia Buchanan in staging this still provocative even if mildly, but nonetheless deliciously, dated show. It is thus a delight to re-visit the production to witness not only seasoned performers three months in, but also to observe the latest cohort of freaks to join this outlandish troupe as they perform The Boy George Musical.
The book traces photographer Billy from teenage to adulthood as he discovers his sexuality within the ambivalent and decadent world of the 1980’s London club scene. Billy, his parents and girlfriend Kim are fictional creations, but the people and freaks that they encounter were living cultural icons of their time.  Amongst these real life caricatures, Leigh Bowery was a flamboyant inspiration of the mid 1980’s London club scene. An obese Australian, whose outlandishly made-up visage contributed to the Punk/New Romantic cultural crossover of the times, he is played in the show by Sam Buttery, a finalist from TVs The Voice. A flamboyant Oscar Wilde like creation, we encounter Bowery whilst he cottages and his character’s arc through to an early HIV-AIDS related death, leads to one of the show’s moments of poignant tragedy. With I’ll Have You All, Bowery shocks and laughs as he touches upon the men from all reaches of society who have rented his sexual services, yet with Ich Bin Kunst, (transl “I Am Art”)  he sings honestly and powerfully of his impact upon the world. Bowery’s closest friend of the time was (Big) Sue Tilley, played by Katie Kerr who like Buttery, has been with the run since commencement. Sue’s love and support for Bowery deepens through the story and as her friend finally succumbs, Kerr’s stunning rendition of Il Adore reduced much of the house to sobs.
Phillip Sallon, another key pillar of the gay/club (anti) establishment, continues to be played deliciously and flamboyantly by the talented Paul Baker. Equally at ease in leading the line as he is in engaging with provocative ad-lib banter, Baker is a consummate professional and a talented singer. Petrified, sung prone following a homophobic beating provides another moment of raw human grief that Mark Davies Markham draws into the spotlight of his book.
Amongst the new cast members, Julia Worsley’s Josie, Billy’s mother, gives a powerful performance as a woman ridiculed by her ignorant abusive husband before eventually and very publicly being confronted with her son’s homosexuality. Worsley digs deep for her character and her gut-wrenching Talk Amongst Yourselves proves a highlight of act one. Josie’s self-discovery and re-working of family relationships in the second act are further displays of both the depth and breadth of Worsley’s craft.
Boy George and Billy are played by debutants Paul Treacy and Alex Jordan-Mills. Both performers shine, yet both also suggest that they have more in the tank to offer. Boy George in particular was a keystone character of his era and represents a challenge to any performer. Both these young actors are likely to grow in both confidence and stature as the run continues. Devon-Elise Johnson brings an innocent fragility to Kim, at heart a sweet and innocent na├»ve thrust into a harsh and freakish world. As she discovers Billy’s betrayal of her and sings Pretty Lies, she displays a set of pipes that belie her age. She is without doubt an actress to look out for.  
Owain Williams’ Steve Strange, a portrayal of yet another ancient icon who was in fact amongst the press night audience, is a small role wonderfully delivered. Williams, who also originated the role in this production, has matured wonderfully over the run and his interaction with his character’s real life counterpart was a delight. Jordan-Luke Gage’s new boy interpretation of Marilyn is an entertaining and accurate depiction that chimed well with those of the audience able to recollect the era.
The show is a technical treat, performed on a catwalk that runs through the Club House bar, with every available inch of space used to tell its tale. It remains a highlight of the capital’s fringe and with its intoxicating blend of outrage, tragedy and biting satirical comedy, continues to be a grand night out in Brixton.
Runs to March 31 2013

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