Torsten The Bareback Saint

Once in a while at the Edinburgh Fringe you stumble across an interesting and adventurous piece of theatre, a so-called diamond in the rough, proving the point of the festival and displaying plenty of creative, sparkling life in the industry wilderness.

As an introduction to Torsten and indeed Ashton’s emotional honesty, this is a very firm, gripping and dominant beginning.

Torsten The Bareback Saint, devised and created by the colourful, beautiful and daring mind of Barney Ashton, is a theatrical pop song cycle of “musical postcards from the hotspots of memory” from a semi-immortal polysexual sensualist’s life. That’s quite something; to add joyousness to debauchery, the entire cycle is sung by legendary pop icon Andy Bell.

As with all good standard song cycles, Torsten, played by Bell, dips effortlessly in and out of each song, memory and snippet projecting highlighted moments to reflect upon, remember or simply become voyeur to. Voyeurs we are, as the majority of Torsten’s memories are darkened and twisted sexual adventures, conquests and inner torments. We are thrust unapologetically in to Torsten’s polysexual and transgressive world without a hair’s breadth intervening; down to the underworld, with no complaint, we are forced to go.

Ashton’s writing is heroically simple and identifiable, especially if you have arrived via the land of Erasure. There is no doubt in my mind that Ashton’s style, for this piece anyway, is heavily influenced by the iconic pop duo of the 80’s and was written for Mr Bell from the off. The dynamic, electronic pair’s A Little Respect is different in Ashton’s tribute both lyrically and stylistically, as he pulls off something quite original with a nostalgic analogue flavour that beats, flares and teases in a playful and sometimes grand classical manner.

Bell is the perfect choice as Torsten for many reasons, predominantly for his oh-so memorable, lustful and unblemished vocals. They are the highest asset of the piece, washing over you in a cascading rainbow of unicorns, dancing on a chocolate velvet, plush carpet, driving this creative collaboration into a whole new dimension. Bell stands statuesque with pride as he parades and cavorts in Torsten’s raw and frivolous persona.

This, though, is where the production as a whole, slightly falters. The idea of Torsten’s melancholic world is inexplicably beautiful, full of desire and intrigue. If only this was portrayed in the presentation of the piece, we would be truly transported into his undignified world. The simplicity of projection, smoke, flamboyant costume and gig-style lighting made no real connection and added very little to the essence of what was being presented. Even taking into account the restrictions of the Fringe, a little more effort and adventure outside of the box would have bound this universe together and enabled this voyeur to truly indulge.

However, the experimentation and exploration is commendable. The future of Torsten could be very rewarding both to the creatives and Bell if some attention to dramatic detail and effect were handled by the correct pair of wandering hands. As an introduction to Torsten and indeed Ashton’s emotional honesty, this is a very firm, gripping and dominant beginning.

Reviews by Stuart Saint

Charing Cross Theatre

Death Takes A Holiday

★★★
Southwark Playhouse

Grey Gardens

★★★★★
Southwark Playhouse

Grand Hotel

★★★★★
Southwark Playhouse

Gods And Monsters

★★★★★
Southwark Playhouse

Dogfight

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon

Wendy Wason: Hotel California

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Andy Bell, from pop legends Erasure, takes on ‘the most challenging role of my career so far’ as age defying, polysexual Torsten The Bareback Saint. In this one-man theatrical song-cycle, he delivers musical missives from the hotspots of the memory of a learned, semi-immortal sensualist. Consequently, it's an unnaturally elongated life. So, is Torsten alive or dead, a carnal incarnate or munificent saint? Torsten sings deeply affecting expositional songs that incrementally illuminate the extraordinarily mysterious life of a man disconcerted by his own bizarre experience of the nature of passing years.