March 5, 2014 NSR Admin

Theatre Review: The Tiger Lillies at The Northern Stage

“Writing the songs for Lulu was hard; I was drawn into a very dark place. All the characters around her are grotesque, pharm so you have to breathe this putrid air. All I can say is, viagra I developed a profound sympathy for Lulu herself – she has very little choice in what happens to her.” Martyn Jacques

You are not here to simply sit comfortably and feel warm, sildenafil fluffy feelings. That much is clear from the moment you are handed a program with the blunt warning that “It is not a happy or nice story.”  But what else can we expect from The Tiger Lillies who have become known for their cruel black humour. They are a band which seeks to shock, amuse and entertain us with their twisted songs about prostitution, drug-addiction, violence, despair and in this case a brutal murder.

Lulu: A Murder Ballad is based on the story of Lulu, originating in the plays of Frank Wedekind. Lulu is a prostitute who rises through the ranks of society, travelling from Berlin to Cairo to Paris and gradually descending back into prostitution on the streets of London. This Opera North, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Warwick Arts Centre co-production challenges us to question ourselves and ask why we are sat in the audience ready to watch Lulu be used and abused. We are told upfront that she is going to be killed at the hand of Jack the Ripper and throughout the show we feel as though we are being asked if we dare to tap our feet along to the music and be entertained by such a story of squalor and despair.

The Tiger Lillies take centre stage with their array of strange instruments. They manage to create a unique sound perfectly befitting the seedy underbelly of the Victorian streets where Lulu’s story takes place. The haunting soundtrack is created by compiling together the captivating melodies of an accordion, piano, ukulele, Theremin, musical saw and percussion. This hypnotic sound combined with frontman Martyn Jacques’s falsetto narration and heavily-painted, contorted face makes The Tiger Lillies performance irresistible to watch. It is their show and they do a wonderful job of being the puppet-masters who weave Lulu’s story through a theatrical song-cycle of 20 songs and interludes.

The only drawback to this approach is that dancer Laura Caldow (Royal Ballet, ROH, ENO) as Lulu is relegated to the back of the stage for most of the performance. Perhaps this is a perfect metaphor for the dominating male psyche and patriarchal possession pervading the Victorian streets which they are musically narrating. Caldow’s performance in itself was convincing as we watch her be corrupted from innocent little doll to a poised and controlled creature who is educated in attracting the custom of men. As Lulu silently dances and displays her limbs clearly, as if she is a good to be purchased we feel almost guilty and perverted to be watching enthusiastically. She is the all-round performer who can transition from ballet to quickstep and is there to entertain us all.

However, despite the grotesque nature of the story the show feels all too sanitary at its conclusion. Lulu’s murder happens, as the rest of her story has, at the back of the stage. The boundaries could have been pushed further and by the end of the performance we have warmed to The Tiger Lillies as performers and have reclined in our seats perhaps just a little too comfortably.

Alix Pickles