“Clifford North” is a name that suggests beige suburbia. But that ordinary name belongs to a splendidly over-the-top glam-rock love god, imaginary friend to the unhappy woman in B-Girl.
The rock god is played by iOTA; B-Girl is played by Blazey Best, and they were directed by Craig Ilott, all three of them multiple award winners. The trio have worked together previously in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Ilott and iOTA co-created the cabaret Smoke and Mirrors. Perhaps these earlier work relationships have nurtured a shared sense of trust, giving them the courage to push all aspects of the current edgy production, again co-written by Ilott and iOTA.
B-Girl is already on-stage as the audience enters the theatre. Yellow-toned light creates pools of domesticity, revealing a table, a chair, a window, a standard lamp—and the woman, sitting at the table and picking at the ripped knee of her jeans.
Without a word spoken, her melancholy is obvious, though we don’t know at this point why she is so unsettled.
Then things ramp up. There’s a loud rock band, the faces of its four members concealed by somewhat sinister silvery headgear/masks. There are crazy lighting displays that dazzle and disorient the viewer. The stage is revealed as having three levels—including a high catwalk just right for strutting on—and even a scissor lift.
And there is Clifford North. A vision in sparkly blue and silver, he has marvelous silvery-white hair. Shiny blue lycra encases his slim hips and a sequined star twinkles on his crotch. (The extraordinary costumes are by Heather Cairns.) And he postures and dances and climbs stairs in outrageous platform shoes. Seemingly he incorporates androgynous glitter-rock elements of David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Lou Reed, and Kiss. But whatever materials construct him, it is immediately clear that he is a fantasised alter-ego for B-Girl.
The music energises B-Girl to dance, strut, posture. She is powerful when she sings like the powerful rock-n-roll god, and theatrical magic is generated by the way she and Clifford North share songs, their identities merging and shifting.
Not surprisingly, Clifford North inspires B-Girl’s escape from her situation—and from her husband, played by Ashley Lyons with frightening pent-up rage.
The production is in-your-face amazing but B-Girl, in her bare feet and torn jeans, always provides a grounding balance to Clifford North’s processed beauty and out-of-this-world pallour. Blazey Best conveys a warm, human presence whose fate is the emotional fulcrum of this story.
The overall musical style is almost an audio assault—an aggressive and somewhat clumsy story-telling tool. Given the visual references to Bowie, I found myself longing for Bowie’s more melodic and narratively nimble musical style.
However, there are moments that are gentle, subtle and nuanced. In one song, the lyrics begin by describing a happy little girl playing on a swing and then, with a clever twist on the word “swing”, poignantly conveying an adult woman’s disillusionment.
If you wanted, you could take away some sort of insight into the potential impact of popular culture—the ways it provokes fantasy, the way fantasy provides role models, even the manner in which sexual desire can be channeled into motivation to get the hell out of bad circumstances.
But none of that is as thrilling as the production’s stunning visual design, or the music that vibrates viscerally, or the intensity of its performances. This production is worth seeing for its sheer bravura.