Heather Taylor reviews Hedwig and the Angry Inch, presented by The Just So Society for this year’s On The Rocks Festival.


 

Hedwig and the Angry Inch was not a show for the faint-hearted. Deliberately crude, salacious, and provocative, nothing and nobody was safe from the hilariously scathing insults in this show. Blind Mirth, Louise Richardson, Socialism, Jeb Bush, Jimmy Fallon and punk-rock music all took a bashing over the course of the three performances. Cleverly, the bare, stripped back set was also explained as part of a joke.  The performance was supposedly a last minute arrangement, with the band only getting the venue due to the ‘The Smirths’ being such a flop and closed after only one night.

‘How did some slip of a girlyboy from communist East Berlin become the internationally ignored song stylist barely standing before you?’ Hedwig asks the audience, answering with snippets of her life story in between songs. She was born Hansel Schmitt and suffered a great deal during her childhood, with a cold-hearted mother, an absent father and terribly poor living conditions. Hansel’s life seems to be changing for the better when she meets Luther Robinson, a U.S soldier. They fall in love, and decide to marry and move to America. There is only one problem. In order to do this, Hansel has to ‘leave something behind.’ Unfortunately, the sex-change operation is botched, and Hansel’s surgically constructed vagina heals closed, leaving Hansel, now Hedwig, with a ‘scar running down it like a sideways grimace on an eyeless face’. This, and her band, she refers to as her ‘angry inch’.  Sadly, Hedwig’s story does not end there. Shortly after moving to America, Luther leaves her for someone else. In an attempt to move on with her life she befriends a painfully shy Christian teenager, Tommy Speck, with whom she falls in love. She gives him the nickname Tommy Gnosis (gnosis being Greek for knowledge) and teaches him all about rock music. However, Tommy goes on to leave her, and become an internationally successful rock star with the songs Hedwig wrote.11063588_1167833086560645_2096149399149834978_o

Monday evening opened with Christopher Miller playing Hedwig. Vocally, he was absolutely fantastic, particularly when he reappeared at the end as Tommy Gnosis. If I did not know any better, I could easily believe that Chris had been a rockstar in a past life. This was where he truly shone. He also knew the choreography exceptionally well, better than both Connor and Tommy, and had a diva strut that could easily rival Beyoncé herself.

His performance during ‘Exquisite Corpse’, the scene in which Hedwig suffers a mental breakdown, stripping herself of her wig and clothing, really set him apart from the others. Transitioning from the flirty, foul-mouthed Hedwig, to this emotional scene of identity crisis was no mean feat. All in all Chris gave a very convincing and moving performance. My only real criticism for Monday night, was that the band were slightly timid and needed to loosen up a bit.

On Tuesday, Hedwig was performed by Connor Powell. He brought a totally different energy to the character. Connor’s Hedwig was louder, more confident and had just the right amount of arrogance, which lent itself to the comedy better. He did not rush through the lines, and knew exactly when a dramatic pause, followed by an eye roll or a knowing look, would leave the audience in stitches. His vocals were good, without being spectacular. I was also very impressed with the band on Tuesday; they were brilliant, clearly more relaxed than on Monday, which definitely added to the atmosphere of the show.

Wednesday evening was the closing night, and, as expected, The Byre was nearly at capacity. The main question for me was simply, how is Tommy Rowe going to top the previous two nights? To be perfectly honest, he did not. He was fairly reserved in his role as Hedwig, although there were brief moments of brilliance, it seemed that he never really settled in to the role. For a character with so much potential for personalisation, it was absent. His voice was good with a sweet and soulful, but there was just something missing for me. He was not as funny and did not make an emotional impact in the same way Connor and Chris had managed to. It was a performance that stood below the mark of excellence in comparison to the previous two evenings.

The star of the show for me has was the wonderfully talented Kate Kitchens, who played Hedwig’s husband Yitzhak in all three shows. Her vocals were pitch perfect, and in particular, her harmonising in ‘The Origin of Love’ was just complete aural pleasure. Kate’s dramatic transformation at the end into Yitzhak’s drag alter-ego was not only surprising (the first night at least, for me) but an utterly spectacular performance. She received a standing ovation every evening which was well deserved.

We had been promised three completely unique performances, and that is certainly what we got. This glam-rock musical was a refreshing choice from Taryn and the rest of the Just So Society. Clearly a lot of effort had been put in to this production, and the inclusion of a live band gave the feel of being at a real rock concert. I thoroughly enjoyed myself at each performance this week, and if this was anything to go by, I expect even greater things to come from the Just So Society.

 

Heather Taylor

© Photo courtesy of Lightbox