Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Painted by Lucien Freud, founder of Taboo, dancer with Michael Clark and a man of immense presence and ability, Leigh Bowery is a man who should be celebrated on a daily basis. Andy Howitt presents a multi costumed and 1980’s sound tracked tribute to a story told of a young boy from Sunshine west of Melbourne, who came to London and embraced hedonism and dance, influencing many and ending as a creative who died too young for words.
Any man who puts Archie Gemmell’s genius from 1978 into a dance piece has already got my heart. To perform and convince me that this life was worth celebrating took my head with it. Howitt enters as an austere man, the father of Bowery, wanting us all to celebrate his son’s life. As he was a severe Christian this may have been the first flight of fantasy for the evening.
From there we get the story of Bowery’s birth, his travels, his renaissance with a delightful backdrop against which Howitt delivers many set sequences with much to admire and adore. The Sunshine of his birth may have been left behind but there is a clear sunshine of presence in the room as costume changes take us from the funereal suit to gas mask, pink dresses under the oxters, flowery creations and the types of hats that will never grace Ascot. With each set piece Howitt introduces, delivers and explains with much love in his Fife chords.
This Lord of Misrule deserves such reverence and whilst the soundtrack of the 1980’s and the drugs of that time are not my memories of that decade, having been brought up in Ayrshire and more of a Bon Jovi man myself the influences here are recognisable and notable. They are memorable, and the affection Howitt has for Bowery obvious with every confident creative step.
It is, however, a dance piece and Howitt has left the first flush of youth behind. His abilities though have not deserted him. His movement is never less than convincing, mesmerising at times, and with my particular favourite being to Golden Brown each set piece takes us further along the line in complexity and aplomb.
It is also the theatricality of it that dazzles. From audience interaction where Howitt manages to get us all to be part of it, through a beneficent growl that brooks no resistance to the word association that Minty brought out a studio and the darkness into the clubs of the young and not so young.
Howitt wove in the experiences and the knowledge gained during that time with a fascinating piece about the day after drugs being taken and how they affect dancers. The movements shown then returned in the next set dance piece that showed someone with an acute sense of the theatrical at work.
Similarly, the counting down of the ending was simple but highly effective. Knowing what was likely to be the end heightened by the way in which Howitt held us to be part of a countdown on New Years that had nothing to do with celebration and Times Square – in the heart of a city dedicated to Hogmanay – such irony…
I loved this and found myself heading to Google to look further into Bowery’s life, to remind and challenge myself of the times that were so fulfilling for him and made a massive difference to the future cultural resistance to the politics of the time. His death may have been wrapped in the illness of the 80’s but his appeal and influence has managed to transcend decades and keeps us on our toes; the narrator for this evening had toes that were, after all, also rather special…