The first major revival of Boy George’s musical Taboo sees the production staged in the intimate Brixton Club House. Perhaps on first merits an unlikely venue, a doubt which is quickly dispelled when the action begins in this site-specific production. Lights stick to the charismatic club promoter Philip Sallon (Paul Baker) and his army of ‘freaks’, as the audience are hurled into a bygone era of flamboyant icons.
Set in the early eighties, Taboo is not only the musical of Boy George and his often turbulent rise to fame, but also the fabulously freakish characters that encompassed that creative world of gender, sexuality, domestic violence, drug-addiction and self-discovery.
A tight production that will have you on the edge of your seat one minute and falling off the back of it with laughter the next.
Primarily, Taboo is the story of Billy (Alistair Brammer), who escapes family trauma to take on the world of Soho. His dreams of a photographic career are soon catapulted into reality when he meets the likes of Sallon, a young George O’Dowd (Matthew Rowland), Leigh Bowery (Sam Buttery), Marilyn (Adam Bailey), Steve Strange (Owain Williams) and the eclectic group of artists and “freaks”.
There are some great musical numbers in Taboo and the hand of Boy George is evident in some of the more emotional laments. Cast wise, this is a tour deforce for Paul Baker reprising his role as Sallon, who drives the show on with a relentless energy. This is a cast of big voices and personalities. Special mentions must go to Sam Buttery as the outlandish Bowery and Niamh Perry as Billy’s girlfriend Kim. Both deliver well-rounded poignant performances. It’s unfortunate that Matthew Rowland’s Boy George isn’t utilised as much as perhaps you would expect leaving his presence overshadowed by the rest of the larger-than-life personalities.
Christopher Renshaw, co-creator and director, delivers a tight production that will have you on the edge of your seat one minute and falling off the back of it with laughter the next. Every section of the club space is used, including the bar, where Buttery makes his show-stopping and not-to-missed entrance. Top marks must go to the sound design team at the venue. This would not be an easy show to pull together from an audio perspective, though Thames Audio manage to keep every lyric crisp and audible. A real feat that deserves recognition.
It’s been ten years since Taboo premiered in London and the show has lost none of its allure, capturing the audience attention and holding it for the two hour duration.
**** (4 stars)
Runs until 23rd December 2012