Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Fri 7th – Sat 29th August 2015

reviews

Holly Willis

at 09:53 on 11th Aug 2015

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch follows the story of transgender rock goddess Hedwig in her desperate quest to find love and fulfilment. At times achingly sad, the show is ultimately all about self-acceptance. It is a bittersweet portrayal of the struggles that transgender people face in a world that is not always welcoming. Jake Benson delivers a sensitive and complex performance in the role of Hedwig, and the moody, expressionless band of talented musicians fit the role of brooding rock stars perfectly. Although a little laboured at times, this show is fearless and well worth the trip to Greenside.

The theatre at Greenside is perfect for this show, as the small black-box space creates an air of intimacy that draws the audience in to Hedwig’s story. The show clearly has a bit of a cult following, as the packed theatre was on this particular night full of people mouthing along to the words. The standing ovation given by a few audience members showed that those who already had a particular fondness for the musical were not disappointed.

The cast use the venue to its full potential, interacting with the audience and commanding the entire theatre. Their use of tech is also effective, as songs are accompanied by artistic animations projected onto the back wall. Although there were a couple of technical difficulties during the show, with unwanted PowerPoint slides occasionally making an appearance, these inventive technical additions complement the glamour and chaos of the show.

Benson is fabulous as Hedwig, adopting a flamboyant façade that slowly develops cracks as the show goes on to reveal the vulnerability underneath. He is extremely naturalistic and often funny, missing no opportunity to slip in a joke. This can get a little tiresome, particularly because most of these jokes are centred around Hedwig’s rather crude sexual exploits and so go for the cheap laugh rather than being particularly original or witty. Despite this, Benson’s Hedwig is charming and likeable, and adept at winning the audience over.

This show is not your average cheesy musical, but a bold and eye-opening portrayal of the rejection to which transgender people are often subjected. It is not self-pitying (although Benson’s lengthy conversation can feel a bit self-indulgent), but sends instead an important message of empowerment and self-love: give everything you can to those who accept you for who you are, and give the finger to those who don’t.

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Simon Fearn

at 10:20 on 11th Aug 2015

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As the night draws in at the Edinburgh Fringe, the shows tend to become increasingly strange. This explains Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a comedy about a cross-dressing rock star from East Berlin who’s ego and colourful backstory get in the way of a live music set. It’s the sort of show that readily attracts a cult following, and was enough of a draw to fill the out-of-the-way Greenside venue. But it’s also an acquired taste, and I was almost wishing the show was a little less ‘out there’ during some of the performance.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is actually a Tony award-winning Broadway musical, but you wouldn’t think it considering that the show lurches from rambling monologues from Hedwig (Jake Benson) to Mighty-Boosh-style comedy rock songs. At an hour and fifty minutes, it’s one of the longest shows at the Fringe, and could have done with being a good deal shorter. Although it was incredibly well executed, it still does require a good deal of stamina to get through what is essentially a two hour monologue with the occasional musical number.

Benson was stellar as Hedwig. His appearance in triple denim, looking like Frank N Furter transposed to the Nineties, instantly made an impression. The show rested almost entirely on his shoulders, and he managed to keep the tone uncomfortably balanced between tragedy and comedy.

The music also was also surprisingly good. Benson had a powerful voice and really went for it on the heavier numbers, whilst Nadia Dawber as Hedwig’s sassy boyfriend added some stunningly high harmonies. There were actually several decent rock songs in the mix, my favourite being ‘An Angry Inch’, an intense belter about Hedwig’s botched sex change.

The best thing about the performance was how every cast member or musician inhabited their characters completely, and it was easy to forget they were acting rather than just performing an eccentric live set. Benson and Dawson were both flawless, and the band members’ look of utter boredom during Hedwig’s egocentric anecdotes was spot on, especially the drummer reading the Fringe programme in the background.

This was actually one of the most professional productions I’ve seen at the Fringe, and was probably the best acting I’ve seen so far. The only trouble is that after a busy day at the Fringe, the show is too long and too intense for its 10pm slot. This didn’t seem a problem for much of the audience tonight, many of whom gave the show a standing ovation. Ultimately, the production was both an emotional rollercoaster and a deliciously inappropriate comedy, and deserves all the recognition it gets.

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