Hedwig And The Angry Inch is a show which works on so many levels. It is a comedy, a tragedy, a rock show, a drag act and a parable all rolled into one. It is ostensibly a story of a genderqueer musician but is a metaphor for everyone who struggles with their identity for whatever reason.

Firstly, let’s get the name out of the way. Hedwig is a German singer and The Angry Inch is the name of her band. Its title is derived from the botched gender reassigning operation she underwent.

The format of the show is part concert and part reminiscence. It is initially set in a seedy working men’s club where the eponymous heroine is appearing after being ripped off by a former lover who has stolen the songs which she wrote and made a successful career performing them in stadium shows. He is playing such a venue simultaneously to Hedwig’s gig, a fact which is ingeniously illustrated by the occasional opening of a door in the side of the stage to reveal a flood of light and the miscreant’s between-songs banter.

The story begins when, as a young boy in East Berlin, named Hansel, he listens to western rock music on AFN, American Forces Network, which leaked from over the wall. One day Hansel is picked up by an American GI who wants to marry him but he has to undergo the gender reassignment in order to have a wedding. This happens and the pair move to the USA. The marriage breaks down and Hedwig, as she is now known, is left alone. At the same time, the Berlin Wall is being demolished, meaning that she could have got to the West anyway. That is when she takes up with the famous rock singer, another relationship which ends in disaster.

Hedwig in full rock mode

After performing small clubs in huge wig, fishnet tights and mini dresses. She marries her co singer, Yitzhak, played by Elijah Ferreira and eventually decides to break free from this alter ego, ditches the wig, starts to write songs again and ends up playing by the stadium circuit herself.

The story is told with copious amounts of humour suddenly interrupted by sections of pathos, and a load of great music. Almost every joke and quip concerns, sex or body parts normally found in the underpants region. Just as I was about to get a bit bored with this, the story abruptly changed, as did Hedwig herself.

In reflective mood

I found this show to be brilliantly conceived, acted and staged. Hedwig/Hansel played by Divina De Campo, switched effortlessly between her manufactured image and the troubled person within, ending in self-fulfilment. The comedy timing was spot on and the singing of both the rock anthems and quiet ballads amazing. Elijah Ferreira, who played second husband Yitzhak, was also superb in all departments.

The Angry Inch, comprising Jess Williams on bass, Isis Dunthorne, drums, Frances Bolley, guitar and Alex Beetschen, Music Supervisor and Musical Director on keys kept up a relentless pace all night throwing the appropriate shapes making Bon Jovi look like Madame Tussaud exhibits. Now I come to think of it…….

The cast l to r Frances Bolley – guitar, Divina De Campo – Hedwig, Isis Dunthorne – drums, Elijah Ferreira – Yitzhak, and Jess Williams – bass.
Music Supervisor, Musical Director and keys – Alex Beetschen.

The staging of the piece was also spot on, with the single stage, and room to the side, being used so imaginatively as to need no scene shifting although still being morphed from shabby WMC to arena venue by use of lighting, video and other effects. I would refer you to https://leedsplayhouse.org.uk/events/hedwig-and-the-angry-inch/ and click on Credits for a full list of creatives.

The real Hedwig. Divina De Campo and Yitzhak – Elijah Ferreira

I can’t recommend this show enough, not only because it is superb as a piece of work, but also for the fact that it exists at all. It is testament as to how far the genderqueer community have come in the last 25 years. I say this because in the mid 1990s I was in a relationship with a woman whose sister began life as her brother, and, the prejudice, abuse and humiliation she suffered was horrendous. This was not from the sections of society which you may think, but from the students at the (southern) university where she worked in the Science faculty. Let’s hope that the next quarter century can continue the momentum.

Hedwig And The Angry Inch is at Leeds Playhouse until 23rd April. For further details and to buy your tickets please go to https://leedsplayhouse.org.uk/events/hedwig-and-the-angry-inch/

All photographs by The Other Richard

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