Hedwig and the Angry Inch: Divina de Campo shines in a riotously camp revival
It’s been 15 years since the last professional UK production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. With the media scrutiny of those who are gender non-conforming growing ever harsher and political rollbacks of LGBTQ+ rights cropping up left and right, it feels as though we need the smutty yet heartfelt musings of a genderqueer glam rocker more than ever. As Divina de Campo’s Hedwig proudly stands centre stage for the opening number, her fully extended denim cape emblazoned with the words ‘gender is a construct’, it becomes clear this production will be the antidote to contemporary toxicity.
Despite its humble off-Broadway beginnings and a box office bomb of a film adaptation, the musical has built a diehard cult following among Queer audiences akin to that of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The story follows Hedwig, an ‘internationally ignored’ East German rock singer, who battles with the trauma of a botched gender-reassignment surgery she undergoes to escape her Soviet homeland. Abandoned by her husband in middle America, she starts a relationship with Tommy Gnosis, a young, inspiring musician who goes on to break her heart, steal her music and become a world-touring rock icon. We join Hedwig and her band, named after her scarred genital mound, as she performs on a tour that shadows Gnosis’ while retelling her tumultuous life story with witty candour.
For this gig, the entourage have pitched up in Leeds. Jamie Fletcher’s production cleverly tweaks the script (with nods to Richmond Hill and Roundhay Park) and the multi-faceted set design from Ben Stones is primarily a Working Men’s Club stroke Dive Bar. It is as impressive as it is charming that Fletcher has managed to marry the original show’s riotous camp with a self-deprecating Northern sensibility.
The main attraction is of course Hedwig herself. From the moment spotlight illuminates her at the back of the stalls, it is de Campo’s show. The Rupaul’s Drag Race UK runner-up struts down the aisles, pausing to bask in the audience’s rapturous reception. They nail the bravado and showmanship of a diva with delusions of grandeur but also capture Hedwig’s punk edge, gyrating, growling, and rasping for a rowdy 100 minutes. Racing through the script’s funniest lines, de Campo delivers the jokes with a lovable lewdness, occasionally deploying exaggerated Yorkshire tones to hilarious effect. They truly are the star turn.
Yet, as much as the rip-roaring rush of the show’s soundtrack is electrifyingly Rock N Roll, it is easy to get left in the dust. Lose yourself in the anarchy for just a moment and you run the risk of missing a lyric crucial to the plot. Though ultimately, the spectacle of de Campo slut-dropping in sync with a giant inflatable gummy bear is enough to render any confusion insignificant.
By the show’s end, de Campo has put to good use their well-known four octave range and has even squeezed in a quick cameo from the iconic red wig and silver dress. Hedwig’s regalia has been removed layer by layer as she bares herself to vulnerability both physically and emotionally. Fletcher’s production succeeds in stripping back the pretensions of gender, belonging, and ambition in a show that centres and champions those that do not conform. This musical is a tonic, albeit one that is bittersweet and fabulously dirty.