With theatres brimming with the high octane hits of Queen, Rod Stewart, Abba and soon Elvis - is Taboo just another conveyor-belt song n' dance show with Boy George hits providing the narrative? The answer is, no. What awaits audiences is a fully-fledged musical, which has been given time to grow and mature since its debut in the West End almost two years ago.
Taboo is a celebration of the 1980's, from the fashion and ideology, to the music and sexuality. Against the backdrop of unemployment and social upheaval, in came the "New Romantics" - outrageously dressed night owls who truly did not care what society thought of them. Gender-benders; including Boy George, Marilyn and performance artist Leigh Bowery, have left a lasting impression on anyone who ever met them. Taboo looks at the highs and lows, as well as the huge impact that these leaders of a phenomenon had on pop music.
With only four well known hits on the song list, what about the new material? Well, Boy George has produced a variety of songs that tap into every emotion. "Stranger In This World" is an absolute gem of a ballad, moving the audience to tears, while "Everything Taboo" awakens the senses and you can almost smell the 1980's club when it is sung.
Each performer embraces the material and they enable the audience to revisit a decadent era. Stephen Ashfield astounds as Boy George. This reviewer never thought that anyone could equal Euan Morton's original, however, Ashfield succeeds in doing just that. Declan Bennett provides the emotional hook in a hollow world as Billy, George's confused lover. His excellent vocal performance compliments that of Jaqui Rae's Josie- his mother. James Gillan owns the stage during Marilyn's rendition of rousing rock song "Genocide Peroxide." Drew Jaymson and Mark Little walk amongst the 'game' audience and bring humour and pathos as Philip Salon and Leigh Bowery. The entire cast all give flawless turns.
Tim McQuillen-Wright's wonderful club-like set, Mike Nicholls' flamboyant costumes and Chris Ellis's remarkable lighting make this excellent production complete. The Lowry co-produced Taboo, a big gamble as it is not a coach party crowd-pleaser, but it has paid off. The opening night audience including one time Leigh Bowery Julian Clary gave it a well deserved standing ovation. Many people view the musical genre as dead in the water but one cannot see Taboo's epitaph being "Don't You Want Me?"
- Glenn Meads