Sadly, even exuberant pop stars and drag queens fail to escape mortality. This theatre production finds Erasure’s Andy Bell channeling these concerns into the fading halcyon days of alter ego Torsten the Libertine.
He haunts the bedsit flat of some sordid suburb, as two of Soho’s finest underachievers rage against their age. They compete with the spilled contents of a skip containing unclaimed prizes from 80s TV quiz shows, scattered with half finished cocktails and smoldering rouge-tipped cigarettes, not to mention embittered ambitions.
It is a surprisingly low-key performance – the closest thing to spectacle being Bell’s spectacles. But, his tenor is in fine voice, as flat mates Lana P and Peter Straker stalk the thin line between themselves and their characters. Straker, once a close associate of Freddie Mercury, brings particular nobility to bear on the material.
It’s an orgy of euphemisms, with little plot to speak of, but the music shines, exposing the tragedy of living with dreams and impulses never intended to age. It explores the cost of carefree youth, and a poorly soundproofed communal toilet. It’s reminiscent of Netherwood -the unconventional Hastings care home for eccentric arty types in which the notorious Aleister Crowley saw out his last days.
Like a man drinking from the fountain of youth, only to later discover a dead fox floating in it, the friends are legends in their own minds. It’s disco once the lights are turned on and all that’s left dancing is the dust.
It’s as quotable as the Bond Street Catalogue, which lends itself to fine harmonising and a biting tune. Bell is on solid form, with My Precious One echoing Erasure, but otherwise finds new light. It questions a gay scene that values looks and virility above all else. Despite the lack of story, there’s defiance, although the hurt and loss behind the bravado is seldom far away.
I Am The Boy From The Sauna fails to achieve any subtlety awards, but it’s a rare misstep. Bell might be wearing the huissier sash with nowhere left to charge, but apparently writer Barney Ashton sees a future for Torsten. But, for now, as lingering hopes for legendary shags crumble, it’s hard to see another day, yet something resilient remains about the pursuit of pleasure at all cost. Torsten The Beautiful Libertine is an exhilarating statement, although it’s the gentle affection between our washed up cabaret stars that lingers.