Hedwig and the Angry Inch starring Divina de Campo at Leeds Playhouse – review
According to the programme, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is "a cross between a musical, a cabaret and a stream of consciousness from inside Hedwig's head." Well, yes, but that fails to cover the range of the show: from Hedwig glorying in her position as a performer to her stripped down to her underwear, wigless and helpless. It doesn't embrace Hedwig wise-cracking like a foul-mouthed Dietrich or bullying Yitzhak, her unfortunate husband, or, finally, facing up to herself.
Hedwig enters, glamorously, on stage at a seedy venue on her UK tour. We know it's seedy because Yitzhak's attempts at an on-screen reception are so inept. She belts out her first number and we note, apart from the four-octave range of her voice, that the band under Alex Beetschen is really very good. Then she opens the door to an adjoining venue, much further upmarket, where Tommy Gnosis is performing to his adoring fans. In a few seconds, she shuts it again!
Hedwig tells her story, the days as a boy in Berlin, the meeting with Luther Robinson, until she comes to Tommy. From this point comedy gives way to bitterness: he is the boy on the caravan park whom she tutors in songs which are now his passport to pop glory. From thereon in, it's downhill all the way for Hedwig.
Jamie Fletcher's production for Leeds Playhouse re-stations the play in punk terms and sets it against a background (by Ben Stones) that covers all Hedwig's life. Essentially a stage with a four-piece band, it takes in a dressing room and trailer park, as well as a background of stars and symbols cavorting in the sky.
John Cameron Mitchell's book runs the gamut of smart tomfoolery up to harshly frank self-examination and Stephen Trask's songs unfailingly offer edgy commentary on the action, but this is essentially a one-person show and Divina de Campo is terrific. She begins as a (pretend) star, moving with leggy assurance, quipping nonchalantly, fixing the audience with a stare, beating down poor Yitzhak. Her impressions of her mother are wickedly accurate, only superseded by the whining little boy that she brings out for Tommy. As she removes her finery, she gains in power – it's a remarkable journey for an hour and a half of theatre.
Perhaps there's only one thing wrong with de Campo's performance – she's too good! Yitzhak takes on her wig at the end, supposedly more talented. Elijah Ferreira is charmingly docile for much of the time – his diminutive stature up against de Campo is a big help – and his little acts of rebellion register accordingly, but, despite his affecting treatment of his single song, it's hard to imagine him as the more talented of the two!
According to the programme it's more than 15 years since the UK saw a production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch – that would be the 2005 tour then – and the Leeds Playhouse version is an undeniable success in reimagining it for contemporary audiences.