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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 12:02 GMT
Matt Lucas's comic extremes
Lucas plays Leigh Bowery in Boy George's stage musical
Lucas plays Leigh Bowery in Boy George's stage musical
Comedian Matt Lucas is known for playing outrageous characters, but his latest role could be the most outrageous of them all.

He is known to many as George Dawes, the ridiculous overgrown drumming baby who keeps score on Shooting Stars, the comedy game show hosted by Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.

He is known to many more as one half of the duo behind Rock Profiles, the spoof star interview programme in which he creates overblown, grotesque parodies of everyone from Elton John and Shirley Bassey to Geri Halliwell and Gary Barlow.

Lucas appears in the new series of Shooting Stars
Lucas appears in the new series of Shooting Stars
He has just begun a stage role playing legendary 1980s performance artist Leigh Bowery, famous for painting his body and posing naked for artist Lucien Freud.

He is starring in Taboo, Boy George's new London musical that celebrates the flamboyant, freakish new romantic club scene of the early 1980s.

While other characters like Boy George, Steve Strange, Marilyn Philip Sallon all became stars, it is the late Bowery who is remembered as the most outrageous of them all.

Taboo is a love story that runs via personal quests, social upheaval and the place where art, fashion, sexuality and club culture met.

And Bowery was central to the scene, running the Taboo nightclub - from which the show takes its name - as well as turning himself into a living work of art.


He celebrated freakiness - he became a living work of art

Matt Lucas on Leigh Bowery
"He was one of the great ideas people of the last century, and he made Marilyn Manson look like Mother Teresa," is how Boy George has described him.

Lucas, 27, has honed his fearlessly absurd comic skills with nine years on the stand-up circuit and is one of the only actors in the country who could pull of the extremes of Bowery.

Lucas talks about Bowery like a fascinated fan, proud to be playing someone who was such a champion of individual expression, but not sure whether he should have been worshipped or sectioned.

After arriving in the UK from Australia in 1981, Bowery wore increasingly bizarre clothes, painted his body as though it were a work of art, became a dancer and formed a punk band, Minty, with event performances during which he would do things like "give birth" to his wife on stage.

Spirit

"There was a great sense of the grotesque about what he was doing," Lucas says. "He celebrated freakiness. He became a living work of art."

Lucas has been helped in his portrayal by a group of people who knew and worked with Bowery himself.

Nicola, Bowery's widow, helped on the costumes for the show, while Christine, Bowery's sister-in-law, is doing Lucas's make-up.

"Where we can't recreate exact looks because of practicality or time, we amend them and customise them in the spirit that we think he would have done," Lucas says.

Lucas played music stars, including Bucks Fizz members, in Rock Profiles
Lucas played music stars, including Bucks Fizz members, in Rock Profiles
Lucas thinks of that 1980s time of hedonism as good because people could celebrate their personalities, but bad because "a lot of the people around from that time aren't around any more".

Bowery himself died from an Aids-related illness in 1994.

As well as appearing in Taboo, Lucas is in the new series of Shooting Stars, has been seen in Rock Profiles with comedy partner David Walliams and has recorded a new series of radio sketch show Little Britain, which BBC Two are considering turning into a TV show.

Rock Profiles has established him as a comic talent in his own right, not just Vic and Bob's crazy sidekick.

It has even won fans in some of the stars he and Walliams make fun of, including Robbie Williams, Tom Jones and Geri Halliwell.

A pilot TV version of Little Britain is being filmed by BBC Two
A pilot TV version of Little Britain is being filmed by BBC Two
"David met Geri Halliwell once and she was doing an impression of me doing her. Which is kind of weird," he says.

"But it's all done with affection."

The new series of Shooting Stars, which started on cable and digital channel BBC Choice earlier this month and will be shown on BBC Two from February.

"I think it's the best series yet. It was certainly the best series to work on," he says.

"It's the most fun job you can have. You can't even believe that it's work."

All of his roles are wildly different, yet still the same in an outrageous and audacious but inspired kind of way.

Taboo is at The Venue, Leicester Place, London, from Tuesday.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Sillito
"It takes us to the dark side of the pop world"
See also:

25 Jan 02 | TV and Radio
Boy George still fights for equality
15 Jan 02 | TV and Radio
Saturday night's not right for Reeves
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