Drag queen with a satisfying scratch

Hedwig and the Angry Inch | The Playhouse, London
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Any Harry Potter fans under the impression that Hedwig is a spin-off production based on the career of the young wizard's faithful owl could be in for a nasty surprise. She is, in fact, an East German drag queen that would make The Rocky Horror Show's Frank N Furter come over all unnecessary.

Any Harry Potter fans under the impression that Hedwig is a spin-off production based on the career of the young wizard's faithful owl could be in for a nasty surprise. She is, in fact, an East German drag queen that would make The Rocky Horror Show's Frank N Furter come over all unnecessary.

Kitted out in pink-fringed cowboy boots, stone-wash denim frock and Farrah Fawcett wig, she looks like a hybrid of Dolly Parton and Courtney Love. The action is played out in a flea-pit of a venue (swiftly relocated from Manhattan to King's Cross) with a rickety stage, a table and chair and a payphone. Describing herself as an "internationally ignored song stylist", Hedwig, played with pathos by Michael Cerveris, conveys pain and world-weariness.

Through a series of songs and anecdotes, she laments her unhappy childhood, her doomed career and her luckless love life. As a child in East Berlin, Hedwig (or Hansel as she was then known) would listen to American rock radio with her head in the oven. There was a brief period of happiness as the "crypto-homo rockers" Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and David Bowie became the centre of her world. But then Luther arrived, a brutal opportunist bearing candy and a proposal of marriage. After a botched sex change - hence "the angry inch" of thetitle - the pair left for the US where she was promptly dumped. Next came the fling with a wannabe rockstar who "maintained a near-perfect ignorance of the front of me" and stole all her songs.

Hedwig's life may have been marked by tragedy, but she is no dying swan. As with any self-respecting drag queen, she has a satisfying bitchy streak. Attempting to excuse her oafish roadie-turned-lover Yitzak, she hisses, "When I met him he wanted to be a model - a foot model, maybe". Indeed, John Cameron Mitchell's script fizzes with smart one-liners. Asked by some po-faced passer-by what poor creature had to die for her to have her fur coat, Hedwig quips, "My Aunt Trudy".

There are moments of high-mindedness, too - particularly in the allusions to Plato's Symposium. Seeing pop music played out in the theatre can often be excruciating but not here. Songs performed by Hedwig's band, also known as The Angry Inch, deftly plunder a range of genres from indie-pop to country to heavy metal. Hedwig herself is a stunningly versatile singer, one moment playing the lovelorn diva, the next the sprightly pop princess.

As a musical, Hedwig has it all: melodrama, pathos, searing humour and a handful of fantastic songs. Move over Rocky Horror and make way for a brand new cult.

* To 11 Nov (020-7839 4401). A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper

Comments