COMEDY / All that glitters is not Gary: Mark Wareham reviews Leader] The Gang's Tribute to Gary Glitter

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The Independent Culture
The problem with parodying a parody is that you can end up playing it straight. And parodies come no more ridiculous than a beefy hirsute man in heels and lame. So for the first few moments of Leader] The Gang's Tribute to Gary Glitter, it seemed that we were in for a night of down-the-line reverential pastiche. Sure enough, as the dry ice cleared, there was Gary (M Simon Leigh) bulging out of his Bacofoil, tottering on his silver stacks and striking his ludicrous poses, just as you knew he would be - as sure as 'Rock 'n' Roll Part 2' follows 'Rock 'n' Roll Part 1'.

Until, a few minutes in, the narrator (being Gary's 'manager') remembered that in 1970 his struggling charge had been signed up as the high priest on the Jesus Christ Superstar LP. Enter Andrew Lloyd Webber offering Glitter ' pounds 40 cash or one per cent of the royalties' on the album. Glitter plumped for the notes. 'Ah]' sighed his manager, 'Gary's artistic intuition . . . He would have made a quarter of a million.'

The scene was entirely in keeping with his tabloid character. And from there on in, the show's avowed intent was to strip a legend of his Bacofoil and present him as a hopeless buffoon who had somehow chanced upon success: pure mock 'n' roll.

The Leader's glory days skipped by, deemed too lacking in failure to warrant overlong attention. It was as well that the Glitter man himself was not present, as had been rumoured, to witness his downfall at the hands of cocaine and the taxman, hunched over the toilet bowl crying pathetically, 'I was once the king of glam rock.'

The sharpest episode was the recounting of the moment the star was born. The Glitter gear had been settled upon when Gary's mentor / producer, Mike Leander (Steve Furst), plucked a foil-wrapped chicken from the oven - 'Ah, sparkly clothes,' exclaimed Gary. The Glitter handle had been debated: Stanley Sparkle, Terry Tinsel etc. But the Glitter look? He still needed those startled wildman eyes. At which point a wasp started to buzz him and he was overcome by a paroxysm of twitching terror, frantically flapping his arms to wave the wasp away, the eyes widening in childlike fear. 'That's it,' proclaimed Leander. 'You look completely ridiculous . . . It's perfect.'

Notwithstanding some spectacular costumes and an imaginative set, the show could not disguise its Edinburgh Fringe roots. The script was not always watertight and the acting, Furst apart, ropy. Certainly, you would never back Leigh's voice to emerge triumphant from a seaside talent contest, despite the fact that he and Furst have toured their tribute band, All That Glitters, with Bjorn Again.

Leigh's dancing eyebrow work was more reminiscent of Frankie Howerd than Gary Glitter, and even Freddie Starr has managed better Glitter impressions. But none of this mattered given that the show's raison d'etre was Gary himself, a man who perfected 'Method singing' - where the vocals became secondary to 'an enormous amount of bodily movement'. Rock 'n' roll has already given us 'the roach'. Now we learn that what Gary Glitter was really doing all the time was 'the wasp'.

Arts Theatre, 6-7 Gt Newport St, London WC2 (071-836 2132); 8.30pm. To 30 July