Review: Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Leeds Playhouse

Wednesday 6th April 2022 at Leeds Playhouse.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Some characters just have that intoxicating blend of chutzpah and charisma that can carry an entire show in the right hands. And some performers are their own spotlight, and this performance is a prime example of what that looks like as Hedwig meets Divina De Campo and a little theatrical magic happens…

So who is Hedwig? Hedwig the show is a proud celebration of non-conformity and Hedwig the woman is a whirlwind. She’s a fabulous, troubled soul who has been used and abused by too many and adored by too few. She’s hilarious but wounded and recklessly impulsive but guarded. A transgender rock queen reduced to playing drab clubs to get by, she was destined for so much more, and she has the talent and the fire in her belly to prove it. Director Jamie Fletcher finds laughter and longing in every nook and cranny of Hedwig’s past and present, cross-cutting memories and visions with present day to make Hedwig a fully-fleshed person beneath the stage garb and cabaret-style regaling of events.

De Campo’s performance neatly lands all the facets of Hedwig’s complex driving forces as she fights to bounce back from trauma and betrayal. With an impressive vocal range, she gives flight to Stephen Trask’s music and lyrics which serve to illuminate us about some of her experiences and life lessons along the way. De Campo also throughly impresses with voice work without singing a note, flipping into alternative voices and accents to provide some supporting characters as Hedwig conjures past lovers and let downs. The precision with which she sustains Hedwig’s native German accent and departs from and returns to it so smoothly is just part of what makes this performance so captivating.

Joining Hedwig on stage is her devoted but often slighted husband Yitzhak (played by a sincere but cheeky Elijah Ferreira) and the band, The Angry Inch. De Campo and Ferreira are a great pairing, sparring gently but also quietly committed to one another while the band offer another layer of funny as Hedwig pokes fun at them and they in turn offer just enough enthusiasm to sip a beer. But when the musical numbers arrive, it’s a different story as the band takes no prisoners – Alex Beetschen hammers at the keys and Frances Bolley leans whole-body into guitar thrashing while Isis Dunthorne slays the drums and Jess Williams pounds the bass. They’re a fitting gang for the megawattage personality of Hedwig, who joins them with top vocals and energetic choreography from Mark Smith.

John Cameron Mitchell’s writing is often hilarious in its layering of gags – and their ability to linger and secure residual laughter moments later is a testament to the rich wit behind this show – and Jamie Fletcher’s direction of it. I love that Fletcher isn’t afraid to make us wait. Comic timing is precise and wins time and again and the comedy itself, whether bitingly deadpan or playful in delivery, trips off De Campo’s tongue as if it only just crossed her mind – a particularly charming kind of flippancy which endears as much as it surprises.

When it comes to rocking out with Hedwig, this production goes big, with Katharine Williams’ lighting design transforming the space and of course, that wildly energetic live band filling all available space with sound. And the staging? It’s a space capable of intimacy and spectacle in turn. Ben Stones’ asymmetrical set offers a continuation of the the overarching theme of non-conforming individuality and is used brilliantly for projecting Daniel Denton’s video designs and Jua O’Kane’s illustrations which provide abstract and vibrant visuals. Stones’ costume designs, from denim to leather and punk to pelts, announce Hedwig’s rebellious nature and defiance.

Force of nature? Powerhouse? Tour de force? All apply here when it comes to Divina De Campo’s phenomenal performance as Hedwig, made more impressive by the fact that she holds us in the palm of Hedwig’s cheeky little hand for an hour and forty minutes without ever really leaving the stage. I don’t know much about the iconic 1998 original Broadway show, but I’m sure I won’t be forgetting the wild ride that is this reimagining.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a Leeds Playhouse and HOME Manchester co-production. It plays Leeds Playhouse until April 23rd 2022 (tickets here) before playing at HOME from April 27th until May 11th 2022 (tickets here).

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