Taboo

Music and lyrics by Boy George, Book by Mark Davies
Theatre Royal, Nottingham, and touring
(2004)

It was the decade that gave us excess. The '80s were characterised by greed, selfishness and flamboyance. Strange, then, that in a recent poll the '80s were voted the best decade in memory.

It was a time when the New Romantics established themselves, a backlash against punk rock which in itself had been a kickback against the pomposity of the '70s rock scene. The subsequent decade was about dressing up, not dressing down.

With the pop market these days being depressed, it's only natural that nostalgia should become even more important in people's lives. It's led to a whole sequence of musicals celebrating how we used to behave in the supposedly good old days. Possibly the strangest of them all is Taboo.

Taboo was a nightclub in Leicester Square in London's West End, an outrageous meeting place where anything went. It was run by Australian designer, artist and performer Leigh Bowery. He made costumes for, among others, Boy George who described Bowery as "art on legs".

Taboo the stage show, also referred to as "the Boy George musical", paints a vivid picture of the highs and lows of that decadent era, demonstrating the shallowness of the characters whose raison d'etre was merely to come up with something more outlandish than anyone else. There are endless hot pants, skimpy tops and high-heeled shoes - and that's just the men.

The production has its faults although all the cast are little short of superb.

Mark Little is amazing as Leigh Bowery, his costumes becoming ever more extravagant as the evening progresses. As Boy George, Stephen Ashfield is tremendous, an excellent singer and a fine actor, especially when he deteriorates into a drug-crazed state. James Gillan is exceptional as Marilyn, particularly in the first act when he really does pass for Miss Munroe.

There are also creditable performances from Gareth Heesom as Steve Strange and Steven Osborne who teeters around as Petal dressed in miniskirt, leather coat and carrying a cat-o'-nine-tails wherever he goes.

The problem with Taboo is that it's lacking an identity and tries to please all of the people some of the time.

For instance, there are only three songs made famous by Boy George, Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, Church of the Poisoned Mind and Karma Chameleon. Only one other song harks back to the New Romantic days, Steve Strange's Fade to Grey. Yet two of the ballads, Love Is A Question Mark and Talk Amongst Yourselves, are so strong they wouldn't be out of place in any West End musical.

The plot is also a problem. Taboo doesn't know whether it's a chronicle of the troubled times of Boy George, a catalogue of Leigh Bowery's excesses, or the story of Billy the budding photographer who leaves home and gets caught up in the weird world of the aforementioned pair.

You expect the three strands to converge towards the end, with everything being neatly concluded. But Bowery dies and Billy goes off to India to get his head together, surprisingly taking Boy George with him. The show fizzles out before the cast return to get the receptive audience on their feet with the obligatory encore.

Christopher Renshaw directs a snazzy, entertaining production which certainly has its moments. But to describe it as one of the finest musicals this country has produced? Now that really is taboo!

"Taboo" tours to Southampton, Edinburgh, Darlington, Leeds, Bristol, Oxford, Northampton, Brighton, Cardiff, Plymouth, Jersey, Bath, Wimbledon, Norwich, Sheffield, Bromley, Leicester, Newcastle, Southend and Liverpool until July, with more venues to be confirmed

Peter Lathan reviewed this production in Newcastle

Reviewer: Steve Orme