Unused as I am to revealing my hand this early in the game, I would like to state from the off that this new production of “The Boy George musical” (that always makes me smile, don’t ask me why) is quite simply the best show in London at the moment. From the ideal setting in a club above KFC in the heart of Brixton to Anne Vosser’s perfect casting, including the return of Paul Baker in his Olivier award winning role as Philip Sallon, an incredible score (who knew the boy formerly known as George O’Dowd had it in him?) and a warm, funny, engaging, newly revised script by Mark Davies Markham, I cannot recommend it more highly. With Baker’s Sallon as a big hearted bitchily camp MC the audience are often wittily involved in the action (we get a round of applause for managing to put up with each other for 20 years) and I cannot remember ever having this much fun at the theatre.
A fictionalised account of a fledgling romance between photographer Billy and fashion designer Kim, their lives are intertwined in the real stories of the leading players in the early 80’s gender bending new romantic movement in London, Boy George, the aforementioned Philip Sallon, Steve Strange, Marilyn and Aussie interloper and living work of art Leigh Bowery.
With George’s rise to global superstardom and eventual heroin fuelled fall from grace as a backdrop, we watch Billy outgrow his suburban roots and Kim gain strength as an independent woman, both eventually inspiring Billy’s downtrodden mother Josie, an intensely emotional characterisation from Sarah Ingram, to do the same. Along the way there are two and a half hours of laughter and tears. Oh my god the tears. The story movingly covers Leigh Bowery’s death from AIDS and Kate Kerr’s simply gorgeous requiem for Leigh, the hauntingly beautiful Il Adore, has the two of us crying like babies, make sure you have a box of autumnal shades under your seat for act two. However, it is more than anything a lovingly fun show, with the laughter far outweighing the more sombre reflective moments.
Costume designer Mike Nicholls and hair and make-up designer Christine Bateman have the time of their lives painstakingly recreating the excesses of the flamboyant 1980’s, with Leigh Bowery’s living art statements making the century we are now in seem so grey and dull.
All the performances are to be commended, with two astonishing professional debuts from Matthew Rowland as Boy George and Sam Buttery as Leigh Bowery. Alistair Brammer and Niamh Perry make a beautiful Billy and Kim as they traverse the difficult terrain of sexuality and love, taking the audience on the journey with them. Katie Kerr makes her mark and breaks hearts in the relatively small role of Big Sue. Then there is Paul Baker as Philip Sallon. What can you possibly say about this man? He simply is Philip Sallon, actually scratch that, he is Philip Sallon and then some. No wonder he won an Olivier the first time round, if he could be nominated again he would walk away with it hands down. Put it this way, look out for the Fredas in the New Year, it would take a brave man to bet against Baker.
Director Christopher Renshaw has given us something truly magical. This is one show that neither of us wanted to end. By the time we got to a euphoric mass rendition of Karma Chameleon we felt 19 again and longed to go on to the Mudd Club caked in pan stick, clad in Oxfam’s finest.
Forget Colour By Numbers, this is Boy George's masterpiece.