Taboo tells the fictional story of wannabe photographer Billy and his voyage of self-discovery in London during the early 1980s.
Matthew Rowland (Boy George) in Taboo at Brixton Club House, London Photo: Roy Tan
Boy George’s charismatic score, perhaps wisely featuring only two of his chart hits, is a reminder of just how good musical biopics can be. It helps that Mark Davies Markham’s book is both witty and engaging, telling a very human story behind the hedonistic glare of the burgeoning New Romantic movement.
The Brixton Club House is a fascinating venue in which to tell this story and the adaptation of the dancefloor and bar into the theatre is all-encompassing, creating a genuinely interactive production with characters dancing on your tables and Paul Baker’s irrepressible Philip Sallon offering canapes to the assembled crowd. Baker won an Olivier for the original production and he returns to the role here with gusto, as a narrator and emcee of sorts, doling out the thinly-veiled insults to an appreciative crowd.
The rest of the cast is mix of established performers such as Michael Matus as the psychotic transvestite Petal and Sarah Ingram, simply marvellous as Billy’s put-upon mother Josie and newcomers Matthew Rowland as Boy George, Adam Bailey as a petulant, preening Marilyn and The Voice finalist Sam Buttery making his professional debut as lascivious performance artist, Leigh Bowery. Alistair Brammer brings an underlying sensitivity to the role of Billy and he is complemented by a splendid Niamh Perry as Kim. Katie Kerr as Big Sue brings her soaring, soulful vocals to this particularly strong company with Act II’s Il Adore being one of the evening’s many highlights.
Christopher Renshaw’s direction has lost none of its energy or spark and the changes to the staging embrace the new venue thoroughly, however Christine Bateman’s make-up and wigs and Mike Nicholls’ costumes show definite signs of compromise, a move that is almost unforgivable in a show where the look is everything.