Boy George, Julian Clary and John Partridge reunite for Taboo West End charity performance

Review: Original cast members from the 2002 Boy George musical took to the stage at the London Palladium on 31 January.


Words: Simon Button; Photography: Craig Sugden

The campaign to bring Taboo back to the West End for a long run starts here. Two sold-out nights at the London Palladium this week have proven that, 20 years since it opened in a cosier venue off Leicester Square, there’s a keen appetite amongst diehard fans and curious newcomers for the return of the Boy George-scored musical.

There’s life in the old Boy yet, not that Taboo in its original incarnation is strictly George’s story. (It was retooled for Broadway.) He’s one of the many players who flit in and out of Leigh Bowery’s legendary '80s nightclub - the “aggressive boys, hookers, thieves, queers and those confused” saluted in the Philip Sallon-sung ‘Give Me A Freak’.

Boy George plays Leigh Bowery in Taboo at the London Palladium (Photography: Craig Sugden)

The show is a love story between aspiring photographer Billy and wannabe fashion designer Kim, between questioning Billy and cockily confident George, and between singer Marilyn and his ego, not to mention Sallon’s love/hate relationship with the club kids he lives to bitch about.

It’s also a fashion parade for Bowery’s outre outfits and somehow finds time to tell of George’s rise and fall and rise again, with a couple of Culture Club hits and the Jesus Loves You anthem ‘Bow Down Mister’ jostling for space amongst an embarrassment of riches running the gamut from the art-pop of ‘Ich Bin Kunst’ to the heart-tearing balladry of ‘Talk Amongst Yourselves’.

Taboo is also an embarrassment of fantastically flamboyant characters who have been played by some of the best in the business and the show helped launch the careers of Luke Evans, Declan Bennett and John Partridge among many others. So how do you decide who to bring back for the 20th-anniversary concert version? Simple: As many as you can squeeze in.

John Partridge plays Marilyn in Taboo at London Palladium (Photography: Craig Sugden)

We got Julian Clary as Leigh Bowery, then Sam Buttery, then Boy George himself; Partridge and Mark McGee as a pair of duelling Marilyns; Bennett duetting with Evans via video link; plus Paul Baker, who was the original Philip Sallon, and a bunch of hardworking newbies who pulled off every tricky note and intricate lyric of George’s incredible score.

Clocking in at 90 minutes, the first act remained something of a mess. Too many characters, more than 15 songs, slapdash plotting. But oh what a glorious mess! I can’t think of one song I’d want to jettison or one person, real or fictional, I’d want to get rid of.

Julian Clary pays Leigh Bowery in Taboo at the London Palladium (Photography: Craig Sugden)

The tighter second act saw George’s entrance to thunderous applause and he was clearly having a blast, but then who on that stage wasn’t? And they did it all for free, as the two-nighter was held to raise funds for the Terrence Higgins Trust and Shelter.

The audience had an absolute blast too, with George saying “I think the show needs to come back” to thunderous applause. Ahead of its time as a celebration of sexuality, inclusivity and the Other, Taboo’s time has truly come. 

Rating: 5/5

For more about Terrence Higgins Trust visit tht.org.uk. For more about Shelter visit shelter.org.uk.