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"A Cut Above"
The Electronic Telegraph, September 21, 2000
Those of a sensitive disposition shouldn't read this review. Nor should those with an aversion to glam rock, transsexuals, sick jokes and emotional exhibitionism. Turn the page immediately to read about the Iranian film industry, and don't even think of going to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Right, that should have left only the hard core of Daily Telegraph-reading juvenile delinquents, and as so many wrinkled pop stars have proved, age is no bar to being a juvenile delinquent.
Though small in scale, and more of a cabaret than a full-blown tune-and-toe show, there is little doubt that Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the best rock musical since The Rocky Horror Show. It taps into the gender-bending sexuality of rock, it is often wickedly funny, and there's a cracking on-stage band that really lets rip with a collection of great pastiche pop songs (music and lyrics by Stephen Trask). If it doesn't become a cult hit here, as it already has off-Broadway in New York, I will be astonished.
Hedwig (the excellent, unnervingly weird Michael Cerveris) takes to the stage in a blonde fright wig, a stone-washed denim mini-dress with pink suede tassles and a pair of similarly tasselled cowboy boots. She speaks with a German accent, drinks cans of Carlsberg Special Brew through a straw and has a face that speaks of years of dedicated debauchery. Imagine a nightmare mixture of Marlene Dietrich, Lotte Lenya, Dolly Parton, John Inman, Janis Joplin and Danny La Rue and you will get some idea of the exotic creature who struts and frets and sings up a storm on the Playhouse stage.
In between songs, Hedwig tells us the story of her life. In John Cameron Mitchell's script it's a lurid tale of childhood abuse in East Berlin, teenage seduction by an American GI, a bungled sex-change operation (the angry inch, since you ask, is the livid scar left by the cruellest cut of all) and life among the trailer-park trash in America. But the show is also a love story, about Hedwig's relationship with the teenage son of an American general whom she seduced and groomed into a rock star. By a strange coincidence, we learn that he's doing a huge gig at the Millennium Dome on the very night that we are watching Hedwig.
The songs cover a wide range of styles, from early 1970s Bowie and Ramones punk, to country-rock ballads and the odd nod to Kurt Weill. What's surprising is that despite all its outrageous campery and some really unforgivable jokes, the show becomes emotionally draining at the end as the desperate, lovelorn Hedwig strips off her elaborate drag and goes completely ape in her underpants. After 90 minutes of unashamed tackiness, the effect is genuinely cathartic. Look out too for a remarkable performance from Elizabeth Marsh, the trick of which I won't spoil by revealing.
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