By Neil Durham
WORTH A LOOK?: ***1/2
WHEN?: Sunday 30 January 2022
We 1st saw this musical co-written by Boy George around 20 years ago on its arrival to London’s West End at what is now Leicester Square Theatre and was then The Venue.
- Read on for reasons including guests Boy George, Julian Clary, John Partridge, Declan Bennett and Sally Ann Triplett
It still feels as it did then a little too sprawling and unfocussed but the fact that this 20th Anniversary Charity Concert is running for 2 nights at the London Palladium shows that there is still an audience for this musical which we think tries too hard to appeal to as many different people as possible.
The sprinkling of some star names connected with the show – including Boy George and Clary who have both played Leigh Bowery although we saw Matt Lucas in the role – enable its merit to shine brighter than we remember it.
We play the score on our train journey into Soho and it’s a bumpy ride with many of the songs in no way reminding of Culture Club although 2 of the band’s best loved songs – Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? and Church Of The Poison Mind feature as well as the blissful Jesus Loves You track Bow Down Mister.
The 1st thing we notice is how well deserving of his Best Supporting Actor Olivier was Paul Baker as club host Philip Sallon and his camp contributions are a joy. When he solos brilliantly during Petrified it’s almost as showstopping as when the real-life Salon, now 70, sporting what appears to be a crash helmet joins the cast to dance at the curtain call.
Sallon’s opener Ode To The Attention Seekers and Bowery’s comic/tragic I’ll Have You All seemingly draw on Cockney music hall for their inspirations and as we grow older we appreciate these styles more as the interwoven stories of these 2 men resonate more.
Clary has an absolute ball with I’ll Have You All as he documents Bowery’s voracious sexual appetite including the LOL line: ‘Have you seen the size of that?’ Song Out Of Fashion about someone no longer in vogue was genuinely touching.
When we 1st saw Taboo we wanted to know more about the Boy George story and his relationship with Bromley-born photographer Billy.
It’s interesting that 1 of our favourite films which followed over a decade later – Pride by Matthew Warchus – would have a Bromley-born photographer discovering his sexuality at its heart.
The most recent concert version of a musical that we have seen – Les Miserables: The Staged Concert at the Gielgud in 2019 – worked well by laying almost bare the songs with very little of the plot.
There’s so much plot in Taboo that Sam Buttery as Bowery almost revels in the awkward spoken sections he has to perform to make more sense of the songs.
Just when you thought that there couldn’t be more sections of the audience that the book writer was trying to hook than Sally Ann Triplett appeared as Billy’s mother to assert her Independent Woman status with a rendition that absolutely bossed the show.
We also enjoyed John Partridge as Boy George’s comic foil Marilyn and when Baker referred to the discs on his head as ‘All the records Marilyn sold’ it was too funny.
The line was only bettered by George’s: ‘I’ve already got a criminal record’ to the police investigating his drugs downfall ‘Karma Chameleon‘.
Declan Bennett as Billy has gone on to greater things (Boy Out The City, Turbine Theatre) and when he duets with Hollywood star Luke Evans on a video screen it’s a real moment.
So Taboo is better than we remember it and, although it’s far from Boy George’s masterpiece, we agree with his curtain call reminder that it’s a show which has kept its audience and needs to return.