Words: Simon Button
Erasure frontman Andy Bell first began exploring his alter-ego Torsten in 2014 at the Edinburgh Fringe with Torsten The Bareback Saint - a song cycle that came with a soundtrack album and earned comparisons with Brechtian cabaret and experimental composer Cornelius Cardew.
Charting the adventures of “a gently ageing, semi-immortal polysexual” who has been around since 1905, the project spawned a follow-up in 2016 called Torsten The Beautiful Libertine (this time debuting at London’s Above The Stag Theatre) that most critics felt worked better live, with projections and interactions, than it did on record.
So what to make of Torsten’s third trot round the theatrical block? To fully gauge its appeal you’ll need to check out Bell performing song cycle number three, Torsten In Queereteria, on his return visit to Above The Stag but the accompanying CD reveals it to be just as bold, bonkers and sometimes infuriating as its predecessors.
It has four acts, the most arresting of which is ‘Act 2: The Hedonism And The Hurting’ where Bell/Torsten sings jazzy odes to glory holes, scally lads and fetish gear and goes all oom-pah-pah in a salute to the pleasures of booze
Elsewhere, his voice often a theatrical bass rumble, Bell addresses Torsten’s wistfullness about past lovers, his hedonism and his realisation that even his longer-than-usual life will eventually end.
I’ll admit to preferring the perfect pop of Erasure, but Bell has earned the right to indulge his more outre ambitions and this is an ambitious work indeed that, whilst maddening at times, earns four stars for its out-there artistry - not to mention the fabulously camp image in the CD booklet of Torsten holding up Woman magazine extolling the miracles of the Elizabeth Taylor diet.
Torsten In Queereteria is out now and Andy Bell performs in Queereteria TV at Above The Stag until 28 April.