The Toxic Avenger - The Musical
Arts Theatre West End September-December 2016, Pleasance Edinburgh August 2016, Southwark Playhouse April-May 2016
Book and Lyrics by Joe DiPietro
Music and Lyrics by David Bryan
Directed by Benji Sperring
Designed by takis (Arts Theatre/Edinburgh) and Mike Lees (Southwark Playhouse)
Musical Direction by Alex Beetschen
Choreography by Lucie Pankhurst
Lighting by Nic Farman
The West End is traditionally a very safe artistic world. Work can be challenging, of course, and can deal with tender and volatile issues in the public domain, but it is ultimately reliant on its houses, and as such has a tendency to not cause too much of a ruckus. Work can become homogenised, overtly politically correct, and – the worst fate of all - utterly lifeless. And, of course, in a debut on the West End stage, one worries about offending people or creating too many ripples in the pond.
Bollocks to that, I say.
Where has the anarchy gone? Where have the risky moments gone that take an audience beyond the line, make them aware of where they have been taken, but also make them glad to have been taken there? What happened to the alternative comics who pushed the boat so far they lost sight of the shore, who now have their public image battered and bruised if they challenge the conventional social norms of our times? Artistic form only develops if people are brave enough to push the limits and see how far they can go. There is a place in every artistic medium to make bold, anarchic choices which allow us to open up, interrogate, and explore social taboos, and join together as a community to engage in the debate and – hopefully – experience the eventual catharsis. Whilst I do not necessarily agree with all the views of the show, I wholeheartedly believe that The Toxic Avenger stirs up conversations which need to happen. If we stop pushing the boundaries, as Malcolm Tucker in The Thick Of It says, “dark shit builds up”.
The Toxic Avenger is everything I think a musical should be: escapist, fantastic, but with a strong emotional core and some kick-ass songs. The original Lloyd Kaufman film is a masterpiece of comic horror, up there with The Evil Dead, Bride of Chucky and the more modern Shaun of the Dead – a tongue-in-cheek story that revels in lewd grotesqueness and over-the-top gore. The musical, however, has something different; a burning love story held within a relatable tale of acceptance in society and the need to be true to oneself. Melvin is, at heart, an outcast who cannot find his place in the world: a heady cocktail of self-doubt, impotence and anxiety. Only when he finds the truth within himself, and ceases to hide behind any image – be it superhero, monster or freak – does he start the pathway to happiness and acceptance. I think it’s a great message to be telling today. And, in 2017, what better way is there to spread that message than through an enormous hulking mutant ripping people apart and singing?