I hadn’t been to a theatre in over two and a half years (thanks to COVID-19 and new parenthood) until Saturday, April 16th when I took some time out to watch a stage rendition of one of my all-time favourite queer movies, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, at Leeds Playhouse.

Divina De Campo in Hedwig and the Angry Inch directed by Jamie Fletcher

Divina De Campo in Hedwig and the Angry Inch directed by Jamie Fletcher

Written by John Cameron Mitchell (who originally starred in the movie) with music by Stephen Trask, this UK tour of the stunning stage musical saw RuPaul’s Drag Race Season One runner-up Divina De Campo as punk rock star Hedwig - and boy did she deliver!

This was essentially a one-act show directed by Jamie Fletcher with no interval, and I had a front row seat which was extremely close to the stage. My initial thought was “Oops!”, but I actually managed to avoid getting neck strain and I missed absolutely nothing.

Among the stars were Divina as Hedwig, her talented band The Angry Inch, and Elijah Ferreira as Yitzhak - her bandmate and devoted, long-suffering husband.

In case you’re not familiar with the story, it follows the life of Hedwig; an East German boy who meets an American policeman who promises to take him to America. However, in order to do so they must be married, which in Germany required a full physical examination. Hedwig took his mother’s name and ended up having a botched sex reassignment surgery which left him with nothing but a “one inch mound of flesh”. Later, Hedwig assembled a punk band called Hedwig and the Angry Inch, though they never achieved quite the popularity they deserved.

The curtains were already up as we headed in with ten minutes to spare, 80s pop music playing in the background. Then we noticed the bandmates begin filing in amid the audience chatter, greeting each other theatrically though not saying a word to the audience. There was a flurry of “Is this part of it?” as we watched the bandmates find their instruments. 

It didn’t mean the show didn’t start with a bang though; eventually Yitzhak announced Hedwig’s arrival and she appeared at the back of the balcony seats before making her way slowly to the stage to a guitar solo rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, opening up her extravagant cape to reveal the words “Gender is a construct” as she arrived on stage.

Then we had the first number, Tear Me Down, which truly set a precedent for the rest of the show. Divina De Campo was incredible as Hedwig - her ad libbing was on point, her voice incredibly emotive and she really brought the funny to an otherwise emotional story. The movie wasn’t particularly comical, but Divina delivered some hilarious lines in an impressively unwavering German accent which never took away from the depth of Hedwig’s journey.

The song The Origin of Love gave me literal goosebumps, even though it was an especially balmy evening! The power in Divina’s voice lifted the mythology of the song to a new level. However, it was Yitzhak who stole the show with his heart-stopping, smouldering eyes; man, if only everyone could find someone who looked at them the way Yitzhak looks at Hedwig. Those eyes burned with lust and anger interchangeably in a way that filled the room. He had few lines dotted about this monologous production, but he didn’t need words to turn all eyes on him. When he was singing, Elijah’s stunning vocals complemented Divina’s with a kind of chemistry that’s rare even in musical theatre.

Interestingly, there was no actor to play Tommy Gnosis; Divina’s former lover and protégé turned nemesis. He was an off-stage performer, recorded vocals playing from the wings, to Divina’s increasing anger, and she herself performed their conversations as a one-woman show. 

There was some initial disappointment that we didn’t get to meet the elusive Tommy Gnosis, but there was something rather profound about it too; it was almost as though Tommy was just an aspect of Hedwig’s personality. The one that still felt like a young boy, the one that doesn’t give enough credit to those who made her. Indeed, the end of the movie made Tommy out to be the “other half” of Hedwig, his plea for forgiveness becoming Hedwig’s salvation.

The ending for me was a little lacklustre. There was very little of the energy of the movie’s resolution, and as powerful as Divina was wigless and stripped down to underwear, seriously emoting through Midnight Radio, we were sad to see Yitzhak leave and not return in full drag to take Hedwig’s place. 

MORE: Eight movies to give you the ultimate drag-ucation

Still, Divina and Elijah were a triple threat when it came to singing, hilarity and powerful emotion, and frankly we could watch them again and again. They truly won our hearts. This was a musical that stole our breath away, brimmed our eyes with tears and tickled us utterly pink all at the same time.

by for www.femalefirst.co.uk