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Conventionality is strictly Taboo in an interesting night



Review by David Munro

I HAVE to confess that until I read the programme for Taboo I was totally ignorant about the world in which this musical is set.

I had heard, semi-consciously, Boy George songs on the radio, and I once read an article about Leigh Bowery but there my knowledge ends. The Blitz, Mudd, Taboo and all the other clubs in which this musical is set, might as well be on another planet for all I was aware of them.

I have therefore had to approach Taboo as an interested outsider, and judge it on its merits as a musical, rather than as a recreation of a London Scene, which it seeks to depict.

I accept that it is a showcase for Boy George songs, which I must admit I found very pleasant on a first hearing. The amplification made it hard for me to hear all the words, but those I did seemed amusing and literate.

I think that there was a plot-line threading its way rather tenuously through the songs, about a young man who wants to be a photographer, who leaves home and falls in with the camp and extravagantly-natured denizens of the sub-culture occupied by Boy George and his associates.

Billy, the young man, rejects George’s advances, initially in favour of a girl, but by the end he and George are reconciled, at least insofar as they have a duet about pie in the sky, the lyrics of which appeared to have no connection with the situation it was apparently illustrating, but is a rather wistful lament about lost love, rather than the kindling of a new.

At least, that was my interpretation of it. I may have been wrong, as by that time I had given up trying to follow the plot, and was sitting back enjoying the singing and the cast making spectacles of themselves, in multi-hued and swishy costumes.

I say enjoying advisedly, as although I found it hard to empathise with what was being portrayed on stage, I appreciated very much the expertise and professionalism of the cast and the production.

This was no camp musical, but a well-produced and calculated entertainment, excellently performed and sung by a cast who clearly enjoyed what they were doing.

Again, not knowing the real personas on which the characters were based, I was a little confused as who was exactly who in the cast, apart from the principals, Boy George (Stephen Ashfield), Leigh Bowery (Julian Clary), Billy (Declan Bennett). The rest appeared and disappeared in a multitude of flamboyant frocks and costumes which made them all rather inter-changeable to me.

Nonetheless, they were all good per se, giving enjoyable performances that one could appreciate, whether or not they were good portrayals of whomsoever they were meant to be.

Julian Clary is, as I mentioned in a review of one his pantomimes, a consummate team player and does not let his TV persona take over the character he is playing; the result is that given a good part, as Leigh Bowery is, he shines as the character and one forgets the Joan Collins Fan club.

Steven Ashfield was very much as I would have imagined Boy George, had I given the matter much thought, and so, I assume, were the rest of the cast in the characters they were meant to portray.

In short, even without inside knowledge, this is an enjoyable show, and if, like me, you find it a little heartless, well then just savour the music and fun, and ignore the re-incarnations of the culture club scene.

It is a good evening in the theatre if, taking your cue from the cast on stage, you can accept that for the evening conventionality is a subject that is Taboo.

Taboo: Book by Mark Davies; Music and lyrics, Boy George. Director, Christoper Renshaw / Christian Durham; Set designer, Tim Goodchild; Costumes, Mike Nicholls; Lighting, Chris Ellis; Sound, Jem Kitchen. Choreographer, Les Childs; Musical director, Dean Austin.
CAST: Julian Clary; Stephen Ashfield; Drew Jaymson; Declan Bennett; Steven Osborne; Jaqui Rae; Ashleigh Gray; Gareth Heesom; Emma Bispham; James Gillan; Michele Hooper; Rebecca Mckinnis; Jody Butterworth; James Templeton; Robert Shelly; Jason Packett; Ben Draper.
Produced by Fiery Angel, The Lowry & Clear Channel Entertainment, in association with Adam Kenwright.
New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1QG.
Mon, May 17 – Sat, May 22, 2004. Evenings: Mon - Sat, 7.30pm; Matinees: Thurs.& Sat, 2.30pm. Box Office: 0870 060 1827.

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