Thrilling, provocative, sensual: all words which describe The Just So Society’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Never having come into contact with this musical before, I had no idea what to expect. In fact the show was so outstanding that I still do not quite know what I thought.
It is difficult to classify Hedwig as a musical though I do not quite see what else it could be. The show tells the story of a German singer who suffered a botched sex change in the attempt to marry an American man in order to leave East Germany. She appears on stage with her current husband, Yizhak, played expertly by Kate Kitchens. As director Taryn O’Connor, said, only the rights to the music are purchased and production teams have the freedom to alter as many details of the script as they choose. Therefore, what the On the Rocks audience experienced was a show with a personal St Andrews touch and comical references to Blind Mirth’s show on Sunday. While these references were cleverly inserted, it was a shame that they fell flat for anyone who had not seen the Sunday show.
As the show goes on the story of Hedwig’s life unravels through a series of monologues interspersed with music numbers. Transitions were seamless with the four-piece band contributing to the utmost with background vocals and even the creation of their own characters. Even the stagehands were in full costume, which added to the overall effect. We were not watching a show; we were immersed in a performance. This was Hedwig’s concert and we were her audience. Within five minutes, the transformation from sitting in the audience to hanging on to every single word had taken place. I do not attempt to offer an interpretation of Hedwig for it would be too easy for anyone to disagree with me. Every audience member will have had a different view on the message of the story, a particular aspect of charm.
Seeing the show on Tuesday night, my Hedwig was Connor Powell, as three leads performed one night each. His performance was incredible, indeed it did not seem to be a performance, Connor was Hedwig. Although the show did have a few technical sound issues, these were easily camouflaged due to the nature of the show being a performance itself. Indeed, the issues almost added to the performance rather than detracting which is quite a feat!
Both Powell and Kitchens performed their roles to the outmost, every apparent ounce of energy going into their roles. Their acting began five minutes before the curtain went up with an off-stage verbal fight to get them into character. This character was never broken, emotions perfectly conveyed to the audience and every single movement in keeping with their portrayed genders. The two powerful voices the audience was treated to were sublime. There truly is talent in this town.
Of particular commendation is Caroline Christie’s superb set design. The clever use of the theatre itself and various technical packing cases perfectly placed created a wonderful aesthetic.
If I had to criticise any specific aspect of the play, it would be the costumes. While generally good there were a few sloppy changes of hairstyle for Hedwig and it was obvious that Hedwig’s skirt had been pinned at the back. It would have been incredibly easy to take the skirt in properly, especially as every other little detail had been seen to so perfectly.
A talkback session with cast and crew after the show provided useful insight into the production process. The cast started physical exercises weeks ago including running before rehearsal to test their breathing throughout the long one act performance. A week before opening night, they also spoke to a transgender student who provided useful insight into the topic matter.
I would like to congratulate the cast and crew of Hedwig and the Angry Inch for a tremendous performance that is sure to go down in the history books of St Andrews theatre success.