Adrian Gillan delves beneath the hype surrounding Taboo
You're going to enjoy Boy George's new clubland musical Taboo, suitably residing
at The Venue, a basement barn of a gig-cum-theatre off Leicester Square. Like the
recent Pet Shop Boy's Closer to Heaven, Taboo is well produced and performed, with
some good musical numbers. And what both shows lack in plot, structure, dialogue
and drama, they more than make up for in energy, character, acting and song.
So what's it all about then? Well you can't really lose this plot! Young Billy
runs away to Soho to escape 80's London suburbia, followed by his adoring and
equally frustrated mum. He witnesses the thrills and excesses of the inhabitants
of 80's clubland and - with some of them - emerges wiser on the other side.
Taboo is certainly not a show about being gay - it's a show about being different,
about being whatever you want to be. It portrays the 80's music scene in Britain,
or at least a small part of it, as just another reaction to conformity. Where the
punks had spat, the 'new romantics' glittered, but both movements were - in their
own ways - attempting to shock and shine, to challenge and change.
Euan Morton as Boy George
Perhaps Taboo's main theme is 'ego', an explanation - if not an apology - for
what makes people dress up, make up and then shriek for attention: the desire to
speak the unspeakable and do the undoable, to shatter Taboos in the straight faces
of the grey masses. Modern Boy Band limp and tame - go see!
Another theme is 'transience': those front page exclusives long faded, those
wistfully remembered club nights of our youth, now long moved on and shut down.
The tail of the show is suitably reflective ('Out of Fashion', 'Pie in the Sky')
and the close - coming somewhat abruptly after stabbings and overdoses - is
The dialogue is too often too clever and contrived for its own good and there are
few spoken scenes to stop the show. But there is no shortage of great characters,
living and breathing out the main themes like gigantic, sparkling works of performance art.
Without exception, the actors certainly fill the larger than life personalities
that inhabit a world of seed and glitter, backbiting and cliques. Particularly
enjoyable are the MC father-figure Philip Sallon (Paul Baker) whose warm heart
beats through his acid bite, and Leigh Bowery (Matt Lucas) whose dedication to
his own outrageous life-as-one-man-show are clearly his genius, tragedy and
ultimate mystery. Naïve Billy (Luke Evans) and defensive Josie (Gemma Craven) are
both superb, though the action doesn't really force you to care too much about
their spiky relationship.
Matt Lucas as Leigh Bowery
However, the biggest plaudits will probably go to Euan Morton in his West End debut,
for his effortless, natural and understated transformation - appearance, voice
and manner - into the young Boy George.
A broad-rimmed hats-off too to the real Boy George for his music and lyrics! There
are several sublime and sensitive ballads here, hung on a story line thinner than
a coated eyelash.
Taboo really gets going after the interval. The dialogue is less disjointed; the
sweep grander and the songs just keep coming, normally well linked to the action.
Even the potentially cringe-inducing final Hari Krishna ensemble number ('Bow Down Mister')
works through sheer gusto and joy, as we are asked to conquer cynicism.
It's a little indulgent perhaps to write a musical starring your own persona in
an attempt to say what exhibitionistic rebellion and transient superstardom have
taught you. But we should be glad Boy George did, because he showcases some great
tunes and some fine performances.
Does Taboo live up to its advance hype? Who cares? The fact is it's an enjoyable
show on some interesting themes. So polish your glitter and strut down to sparkle.
Taboo is at The Venue Leicester Place in London with performances Monday-
Saturday at 8pm and also at 3pm Saturday. Booking is available until March 1st
on 0870 899 3335