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the independent 30 jan 2002

Same old drugs hell, by the karma chameleon

Fiona Sturges

You might assume that the words "pop" and "musical" would go together as well as "tea" and "biscuits" but recent history has proved the opposite. The Pet Shop Boys' Closer To Heaven, which endeavoured to recreate the gay club scene on stage, left the audience closer to purgatory. Hedwig and the Angry Inch was a more inviting prospect – at least it had a decent plot – but it still struggled to pull in punters. The discovery that Taboo, a musical composed by Boy George, the former Culture Club singer and DJ, also revolves around the club circuit, sets the alarm bells ringing. More worrying still is that it is set during the Eighties, a time when good music went out of the window, along with fashion sense.
Taboo (the name is derived from an Eighties nightclub presided over by Australian designer Leigh Bowery) begins at the dawn of the New Romantic movement, an era which, with its taste for the contrived, does at least lend itself to theatrical interpretation. The good news is that George has come up with some new songs, rather than trawling out the old ones, karaoke-style. Not so good is the fact that only a handful are worth hearing, among them "Genocide Peroxide", excellently performed by Mark McGee as the cross-dressing pop star Marilyn, and the four-part ensemble piece "Out Of Fashion".
In its portrayal of pop and fashion icons such as Steve Strange, Leigh Bowery, Philip Sallon, Marilyn and Boy George himself, Taboo has a degree of historical interest but there is precious little else to keep you involved. The real catastrophe is Mark Davies' book. Our introduction to the New Romantic scene comes via Billy, a wannabe photographer from Bromley who falls for an aspiring fashion designer called Kim. Their love story is not only nauseatingly trite but utterly superfluous. But it's in the second half that the plot really goes off the rails. First Billy's mum arrives and goes into business with his estranged girlfriend and then his dad appears and gets into fisticuffs with Strange. And Boy George? It's the usual drug hell, recriminations and the golden glow of spiritual redemption by the end.
The downward path of pop stars from fame and fortune to drugs and debauchery has been exhaustively documented over the years, so do we need a musical? The only respite is the comedian Matt Lucas who does an inspired turn as Bowery, which admittedly is not hard when you've got that wardrobe to play with.
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© 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

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