Mini-review – Taboo – Brixton Club House


Laugh if you will, but I was a New Romantic slash Goth (a blurry line between them back in the day) during the early 80s, and for me, a play about Boy George and the London music scene of that era was like manna from heaven, made all that much more fun by being done IN A CLUB that totally had the right atmosphere going with songs like “Enola Gay” playing as we walked in to our stage-side seat. AH the early 80s, when I read about scandals in England through months-old copies of The Face and tried to figure how I should dress and dance by watching Adam and the Ants videos on MTV. Boy George was the person who embodied genderqueer, in a window when being bisexual (or gay) wasn’t seen as a one way ticket to AIDS. I knew there was a lot more going on here than I was able to keep track of from my home in the desert – Tower Records and New Music Express could only fill me in on so much – and, well, then I was off to university and dealing with the rest of life and, gosh, it’s 2012 and I never really got the story straight but wasn’t that Boy George being just amazing at the Royal Opera House at a ballet I saw a few months ago?

I was interested in “the real story,” though I have to admit a trip down memory lane also enticed me (and the opportunity to spend an evening surrounded by music I shamelessly enjoy). But I still came in with my musical theater critic’s armor firmly in place – I might enjoy myself for personal reasons, but I was dedicated, dear reader (both of you, including the one who came with me to this show) to reporting the truth with the rose colored glasses set to one side. Taboo would succeed or fail (for this review) based on its merits alone.

Aw, gosh, that’s the lie I told myself, anyway. The crazy clothes, makeup, and fun (background) music did make me feel all warm and happy. But the story was, I thought, very good, framed in “the outsider tells the tale of a group of artistes” trope familiar from Cabaret to Rock of Ages. A poor photographer with a Siouxsie lookalike girlfriend is documenting a blossoming club scene; will his work make him a success? Will any of them become a success …or (like Marilyn -the singer of this era-, I think, did) just become another Sally Bowles? And …critically for the era…how will his friends and family handle his newly fluid sexual identity?

Amongst the narrative arc of the play, two more historical tales arc: that of Boy George’s rise to (and fall from) fame, which mostly focuses on the early years and generally ignores the existence of his band and the people in it; and the story of Lee Bowery, whom, I’m ashamed to admit, I knew almost nothing of until the Lucien Freud retrospective earlier this year. His influence on the club culture is touched on, and, while I can’t speak as to its accuracy, I felt like the flavor of what I saw (beside Bowery’s painted portait) condensed into the phrase “burlesque performance” was captured nicely in the scenes in which he featured. Only someone who was actually there could know for sure, but it’s often the case with performance artists that their work is never recorded well anywhere other than in the memory. I thought it was very touching that Taboo, despite its expected focus, did so much to keep Bowery’s legacy alive.

Retrospectively, it was the music itself that did the least for this show: a series of forgettable tunes that did create character and move the narrative forward but which otherwise blew away like smoke from a clove cigarette. The focus on a personal history was a good organizational choice; and as a tale of one person’s growth, a slice of a certain period of time, and a memoriam to a great performer sadly brought down by AIDS, Taboo was a fine piece of theater and a good night out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, November 30th, 2012. It continues through March 31st, 2013.)

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