The production of Boy George's Taboo that opened at Brixton Club House in September is still going strong, with a few interesting cast changes.
Exploring the 1980s London club scene, the show follows the story of Billy (an excellent professional debut from Alex Jordan-Mills, taking over from Alistair Brammer), an aspiring photographer.
He moves in with girlfriend Kim (another new cast member with a strong, feisty presence, Devon-Elise Johnson, succeeding Niamh Perry) in a squat in London, meets Boy George (Paul Treacy, taking over from fellow debutant Matthew Rowland with equal surety) and discovers the world of Taboo.
Brixton Club House seems the perfect venue for this site-specific revival, helping you feel very much a part of the club scene, with cast members appearing from all directions, dancing on tables and bringing a genuine party atmosphere to the evening.
Paul Baker brilliantly reprises the role of Phillip Sallon, managing to get the audience on side with his outrageous quips (sitting next to the stage is not for the faint-hearted) and Sam Buttery continues to stand out as Leigh Bowery, with extraordinary costumes and make-up from Mike Nicholls and Christine Bateman.
The production is perhaps a tad too long, but you can forgive that - the whole cast works beautifully together, and brings the club atmosphere to the audience, whilst still creating many moments of tenderness. Overall a very fun night out.
- Rosie Bannister
Taboo is nominated for three Whatsonstage.com Awards - click here to vote now
NOTE: The following FOUR STAR review dates from 14 September 2012, and this production's premiere at Brixton Club House
It first premiered at The Venue back in 2002, but Taboo is back for another go - and thank goodness for that.
The location this time is the transformed Brixton Clubhouse, which now boasts a glittering catwalk through the middle of the room, surrounded by tables and chairs, similar to a cabaret space. The cast use everything from tables to the top of the bar and although this layout makes it slightly cramped, it's a clever use of the space which fits the party atmosphere of the show.
An enjoyably poignant musical full of catchy tunes and strange outfits, Taboo tells the story of Billy (Alistair Brammer), a not-quite-straight photographer who moves in with girlfriend Kim (Niamh Perry), falls in with the New Romantics crowd and finds his life changed forever.
Reprising his role as promoter and 'landlady' Philip Sallon, West End veteran Paul Baker has the unenviable task of getting the audience on side from the get go. From a slightly stuttering start - no fault of Baker's, but of the material - he soon commands the room, with sarcastic quips flying through the air, each costume change ever more ridiculous (the plastic bags are a particular highlight). Baker knows just how far to push it, and when to fade into the background.
The cast is of a thrillingly high standard - gorgeous harmonies abound, there's strong dancing from all and you never feel bored. As Boy George, recent graduate Matthew Rowland certainly looks the part and though his - powerful - voice isn't quite as piercing as the real thing, he effectively gets across George's hurt and insecurity, garnering sympathy and distaste as he goes.
There's strong support, too, from Niamh Perry as Kim, Owain Williams as Steve Strange and ensemble members including Alex Hammond, Zeph Gould and Jennifer Hepburn. Katie Kerr impresses as Big Sue (aka 'Benefits Supervisor' Sue Tilley) and Adam Bailey makes a thoroughly bitchy, furious Marilyn. A minor quibble – it's a pity we never get a more rounded perspective on Marilyn, as we do with George and the fictional characters.
As flamboyant performance artist Leigh Bowery, Samuel Buttery is the true surprise of the night. You'd never know Taboo was Buttery's professional debut from the super-confident vocals and surprisingly nuanced acting. Frightfully reminiscent of Matt Lucas, Buttery is great fun, able to summon up both utter joy and encroaching devastation within a split second, while his outfits and make-up are truly wonderful - all credit to designers Mike Nicholls and Christine Bateman.
Although the show takes a while to get going and while the script could still do with a bit of work, the cast work extremely hard to create a great atmosphere and deliver a hugely enjoyable evening.
Photo: Francis Loney