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A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!







Music and Lyrics: Boy George

Book - Mark Davies Markham

Director - Christopher Renshaw

Musical Arrangements – Kevan Frost

Music Co-Writers – Kevan Frost, Richie Stevens and John Themis

Original Concept – Boy George & Christopher Renshaw

Choreographer – Frank Thompson

Set Designer – Tim Goodchild

Costume Designer – Mike Nicholls

Lighting Designer – Howard Hudson

Sound Design Consultant – Graham Simpson for Thames Audio Ltd

Musical Director – Matt Smith

Additional Music Direction – Michael England

Resident Director – Jason Capewell

Fight Director – Jude Poyer

Produced by Danielle Tarento and Bronia Buchanan

Presented in licence through Stage Entertainment Licensed Productions



Brixton Club House


6 September - 23 December, 2012



This musical may have been down, but it’s never been out, despite the fact that in some regards, its way out. If my drift’s confusing, it’s because I’ve just been to see Taboo – again, for the 3rd time in a decade, my first two outings having been in its’ original incarnation at The Venue off Leicester Square. Actually, you could make that four times, if you count the fact that I also attended Taboo’s showcase, before it actually opened, when I was working for SOLT (Society of London Theatres) at which time, some of its’ songs, bravely sung by singers sans costumes and sets knocked me out.

After its’ subsequent Broadway run, the show’s back, still bawdy and brash, but toned down enough to make it more accessible, some of its’ former hysteria lowered, to make it more like real speech. Opening costumes, which veered too closely to musical theatre before, now appear to be largely, varied tartan and black zippered retro rags from Camden Market, which works, much, much better. The show’s still intentionally, rightly rough in places, but from a writer’s point of view, I can only say that my complaints, and they’re limited, have to do with characterisation(s) and/or lack thereof, and such things are easily remedied, especially as the character I’m referring to is a supporting one. Going boldly where no reviewer has gone before in relation to this show – I still think Billy’s father and the reasons why he and his wife split up are still, too cliché. Suppose Dad was as charming (at least in his persona) as say, Ian Drury on a good day, and he and mum just have their differences, in terms of values and/or opinions. Additionally, though Paul Baker as Philip Salon comes out with some quips here and there, on one occasion, about the un-divine Ms. M. (Thatcher), we could do with some gutsier implications, especially as they’re, once again, topical.

Now, for what I like about this show, which will add words here, though pluses are welcome, I’m sure...It’s got heart, and I’m aware of how rare this is, especially in musicals, unless you take the traditional route a la Rogers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, etc. To be trashy and real and have heart’s an art, as it has the potential to break down barriers. ‘Viva la difference’, as Baker/Salon says. The ending of the show’s been changed slightly, and that’s better now too. I always loved the duets, but in one case, a foursome of male singers, propel songs to higher ground.  That adds drama and excitement to their performances as well as to the impetus of the songs themselves. Though, Taboo’s original songs were always highly evocative of their time and subject matter, in terms of their variety and lyrics, and still are. It must be something of a spangled tightrope, straddling the lines between musical theatre, which can unknowingly, blare, bleat and/or become formulaic and writing out and out music, aka bona fide songs. It’s a balancing act that’s been very well judged in Taboos, both past and present. For those of us who already liked Taboo, this is definitely a new and improved version.

Nutshell storyline: boy meets girl, likes her, meets boy, likes him too, possibly more, as the ‘Boy’ is the irrepressible Boy George, in his just about to make it big, pretty boy stage. Is Billy gay for liking his girl, Kim and, Boy? Yes, because he prefers ‘Boy’. (I actually knew a very straight guy in Philly who liked George in his plait days too, in his case, because he thought Boy was a girl)...Then there are the drugs and the outrageousness so akin to the Blitz, etc. Though speed fuelled East coast underground clubs, some now mirage–like (no photos – were they really there?) like the Hot Club in Philly and Emerald City in Cherry Hill, N.J. had more ‘Noir’ characters in their mixed crowds, and CBGB was loaded with James Dean lookalikes (mostly English – from London, so they said,:0), the Blitz was theatre darling, as my Londoner husband who actually went there (albeit near its’ end) has told me.

Sidetrack city aside, as the show expresses, in the final doings it’s up to all concerned to decide if they can screw up the courage to be themselves, whatever that entails, and, follow their dreams, and, clean up their acts if they need to, after facing the fact that they must.

Actors are challenged by space in the Club House, as it’s so limited, hence they utilise every square inch of bar, seats, ramps etc in order to get scenes across and it’s admirable how well they manage. Throw in some high kicking choreography (I’m not talkin’ Rockettes here) and dancing without kicking somebody’s head in almost becomes a health and safety issue. It’s the almost(s) that count. Entrances and exits in this confined space are enabled by ‘paintings’ above the light lined bar (which looked like they’d been done by and of Muppets, (not slang, but Sesame Street) opening and closing.

The club setting makes all the difference to the atmosphere of this show too, so keep it going George, just make the next venue a bit bigger and more central.  There’s probably some dark club/ ex-strip joint just waiting somewhere, possibly, Soho. I put it that way because there’s no doubt that the show works best in a black walled, club setting, though those swank tables at the Club House have got to go, they take up too much space, reviewers need a central view, and those paying extra for everything generally don’t have a clue... (I’m not prejudiced, just going by facial reactions aka blank stares, i.e. ‘who the H is this supposed to be’? in response to the appearance of Leigh Bowery).

Reigning queen of all the performers, as before, is Paul Baker as ring-master, host, good shepherd Philip Salon, who comes across as a combination of Mr. Personality and the voice of reason no matter what he has on. On top of that, he’s got a great acting/singing thing going with his character. My husband was acquainted with Salon, and he also said he can’t picture anyone else in the role. Going in alphabetical order, Sam Buttery is, hands down, the best Leigh Bowery of the three I’ve seen. His character is eccentric to say the least, but he’s also got a strange sensibility that somehow makes sense, for him. Know thyself as they say. As Kim, Niamh Perry seemed a tad Tim Burtonish at the outset, but her performance warms you after a while and by the end of it, her Kim is her own woman, no mean feat among a cast full of talented women and guys dressed like ‘em. Well done Niamh, your singing nearly brought the house down more than once. Tough act to follow...Matthew Roland has his work cut out for him as young Boy George, not just because Boy was so well known at that stage by so many, but because his predecessor, whose name escapes me now was so amazing in the role that he was nominated for an Olivier and a Tony against stiff aka old school/usual suspects competition in both cases. Though I was wowed by his predecessor’s singing voice, I think Rowland’s physicality is more like Boy’s and his singing and mannerisms work very well in the role too. By the end I was nearly convinced he was George. Josie, Billy’s supportive mum, being wasted on a lout, especially as performed and sung by Sarah Ingram, is a real knock out, and her duets with various cast members were stunning too. As bad guy husband Derek, Michael Matus is sinister enough to draw hisses at a panto, though he’s pretty lethal as Petal the pusher too, as well as painter Lucian Freud. Adam Bailey’s got the goods as self-destructive drama queen Marilyn who, well, see the show and find out! Alistair Brammer as Billy is manly without making a federal case out of it, which is just right for the role, and his singing is very powerful and in terms of emotion, nearly a match for Rowland’s. Big Sue, as sung by Katie Kerr is a powerhouse diva, with the soul to kick out the jams, and I had the feeling I wasn’t seeing her fullest potential in that regard here. One to look out for...Owain Williams apparently has his finger on the pulse in regard to Steve Strange, as hubby, whose remarks I won’t repeat here, confirmed, and his singing voice is something to reckon with too. Daniella Bowen is hardly recognisable from her photo in the programme she’s that into her greyscale, dyed black haired character, Janey, an industrial looking, FACE worshipping social climber squared. To sum things up, there isn’t a bum note among the cast, who are all, highly talented and capable performers. A West End show in a stadium couldn’t do better in that regard.

Music is played live, by a trio of talented musicians, who use a bit of imagination at times which enhances things. In some instances, however, they might think about lowering their volume and intensity in order to allow singers their moments on solo ballads, like the wonderfully picaresque ‘Stranger in this World’, the most pivotal number in the show. This is not a musical, even though it is, kind of thing...Full on works fine when things need revving up, otherwise, not.

I almost feel as though this show could run indefinitely, albeit in a more central locale, where tourists and fans of Boy George’s canny way with a song could get at it more easily. Personally, I can just see it delighting audiences night after night in London and, N.Y. C, Off Broadway, as it has real cult potential. Audience participation helps, and, ad libber supreme Paul Baker as Philip Salon was right to tell us to keep it going.

Box Office: 0844 871 3047

: Tuesday - Sunday at 7.30pm Matinee Performances: Saturday and Sunday at 3pm

Brixton Club House
467 Brixton Road
London SW9 8HH
t: 0844 248 5137

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