Pros: Andy Bell’s performance was good, bringing his new array of music to this brand new piece.
Cons: Language was way too sexually driven, to the point of just plain disgusting. Plus one of the supporting actors relying readily on his script without learning the material beforehand.
Set beneath the rails of the Vauxhall tube, Above the Stag welcomes Andy Bell, starring in a new piece written by Barney Ashton entitled Torsten: The Beautiful Libertine. We were first welcomed by a bright and colourful set consisting of fallen disco balls, picture-less frames and hanging lamps attached to the ceiling. All these elements, plus of course Bell’s union jack printed throne, set the stage gracefully for the singer to come on to. He was accompanied by his cast mates: the glamorous Lana P, who was not all afraid of being rather touchy feely with the front row, and her counterpart Peter Straker, the over the top and deep-voiced note taker of the performance. The performance was divided into a majority of singing, but also had scenes that seemed personal and relatable to Bell’s music.
Unusually, the style of music on offer was not Bell’s typical electro-pumped 80’s classic style that we all remember him for. It was more of a musical-theatre-meets-cabaret inspired take, which Bell sang with great ease. He still has his defined upper register. Some of the material was challenging in scale , but he passed through it without a stumble. However, all the songs on offer were very much similar in rhythm and meaning, and as a result felt like you were pressing rewind on a stereo several times over.
Furthermore this piece is not at all for the faint hearted. The language is ghastly, referencing a whole heap of sexual innuendos I cannot even repeat in this review. The bleep censor would frankly have had a field day at this performance. It was slightly unnerving at points, and although done in a somewhat relaxed manner, it just made you feel uncomfortable as a viewer. As was the fact that one of the lead actors had a script tucked away ‘secretly’ in his notebook and looked as if he were trying to trick the audience into thinking he actually learnt the lines, something actors tend to do. Yet you did not need a magnifying glass to see those green highlighter marks on his script slapping you in the face every time he lost his footing.
Anyway on a more positive note it was nice to see Andy Bell return to the stage, with his passion for music still so evidently clear. Considering Bell is not an actor, and most predominantly a singer, he executed the drama of the piece with a real honesty and truthfulness that tied the whole production together. Without this, the performance could possibly have spiralled into total chaos, however Bell managed to ground it somewhat, which was appreciated by all I think.
A mixed bag really, fun and extraordinarily flamboyant on one hand and rather an attempt at trying to desperately receive laughs from the audience on the other. As Above the Stag prides itself on being Britain’s number one LGBT theatre, I think the choice to hold the performance there was a smart one and provided a space in which the music had a great deal more meaning and purpose. Plus the theatre is extremely friendly and clearly all the staff take a lot of pleasure working in such a diverse place, so that was nice to see.
Written By: Barney Ashton
Music By: Christopher Frost
Director: Robert McWhir
Musical Director: Iain Vince Gatt
Running Until: 4 March 2016
More Shows At: abovethestag.com