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time out 2 jan 2002

Taboo - it comes and goes, it comes and go-o-o-oes, etc
Closer To Hell?

Who'd have thought it? Boy George's musical may be better than the Pet Shop Boys'

by Paul Burston

Boy George isn't quite himself. Nor is Steve Strange. Or Marilyn. And as for Leigh Bowery, didn't he used to be a little, well, bigger? It's ten days into rehearsals for 'Taboo', Boy George's musical about the gender-bending, pill popping '80's club scene, and the cast are putting on a showcase for audience of roughly a hundred invited guests. We're in the bowels of the Notre Dame church just off Leicester Square, in what will soon be transformed into a brand new theatre space known as The Venue; and the actors playing George, Steve, Marilyn, Leigh, Phillip Salon and a host of associated characters are giving us a taste of the musical numbers they've learned so far. Seated in the audience, the real Steve Strange is doing his best to get noticed, head swivelling at every opportunity. Hovering at the very back, the real Boy George looks on nervously. News of this project was greeted with derision in some quarters, which explains why director Christopher Renshaw spent the first ten minutes of this afternoon's meeting telling us that this was the best new musical script he'd read in years

That may be stretching it a bit, but on the strength of what we've seen today, sceptics may yet find themselves proved wrong. Euan Morton is superb as George. Drew Jaymson makes a good Steve Strange, and Paul Baker really holds things together as master of ceremonies Phillip Salon. Gemma Craven injects a bit of domestic drama as downtrodden mum Josie. And if Matt Lucas doesn't quite have the physical stature of Leigh Bowery, he does at least have the stage presence.
The decision to include two old Culture Club hits 'Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?' and 'Karma Chameleon', together with George's solo single 'Bow Down Mister', may have looked like desperation. But despite a few mawkish moments, the new songs are pretty good too. At the very least, 'Taboo' should give the recent Pet Shop Boys musical 'Closer to Heaven' a run for its money. Incidentally, George was one of the few critics who really raved about 'Closer To Heaven'. 'I went to see it as a fan, not as a critic,' he says. 'I wrote a very good review of it, partly because I think we should be more supportive of each other as a community. It was the first proper gay musical and the number of people I know who didn't go and see it! I asked them 'Why not?' Queens here are so fucking complacent.'

Naturally, he hopes enough people will be sufficiently interested in the past to go and see 'Taboo'. Still, he wants to make it clear that this isn't a straight forward history lesson. 'We're not making a documentary,' he says, responding to criticisms that he and writer Mark Davies have taken liberties with history, blurring the early '80's Blitz scene with Bowery's Taboo and all that came later. 'Some people are going to be mentioned, and some people aren't, and that's just life.' Fighting words - but something tells me he isn't exactly brimming over with confidence about this project. 'Oh, I'm anxious about everything,' he laughs. 'We're doing well on ticket sales so far. The only big worry is that the Americans aren't coming to town. But the Japanese aren't scared. My niece works for Ticketmaster, so I get these daily reports. A lot of it depends on the queens, and whether Kylie is doing a gig or not!'

Taboo rehearsals

Special thanks to for this article.

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