FringeReview UK 2015
The character of Lulu is one of the great creations of 20th century fiction, and one of its most disturbing. Her unbridled sex appeal, her youth, and her self-destructiveness combine to make her dangerous, unpredictable and tragic. With the men (and the women) who circle her, Lulu’s journey from street prostitute to the toast of society and back again, is told as a hypnotic and kaleidoscopic dance of death. Journey with her from Berlin to Paris and finally to the dark London streets of Jack The Ripper.
For their new show, the Tiger Lillies have taken on the tragic and lusty tale of Lulu; a young girl sold into prostitution by her father, and subsequently abused by a series of very unpleasant men.
The story is told by Lulu’s father, a cruel figure by the name of Shig. The macabre, gothic style of the Tiger Lillies is well suited to both this character and the story, and the dramatic white face/ black eyed makeup of the lead singer, Martyn Jacques, effectively conveys the ugliness of Shig and the other characters.
Visually, the production worked very well. What is ultimately a very static format, (singer at microphone), was made much more dynamic by the use of projections that created an ever-changing proscenium arch design at the front, and various cityscapes and rooms at the back. They also made clever use of a gauze screen, so the dancer often looked to be behind a window or inside a room.
This is a murder ballad, and the whole thing is poetic; half sung, half spoken, with the eerie Theremin underscoring many of the songs. The musical style works very well to underpin the storytelling. Jacques accompanies himself with an interesting ukulele type thing, or the piano or the accordion. Clearly a talented musician and singer; his powerful falsetto contrasts extraordinarily with the gravelly growl that is his speaking voice.
Also onstage is a dancer, a silent figure representing Lulu, who interacts occasionally with ‘Shig’, but spends most of her time on the raised plinth at the back of the stage. I can see why they brought this figure in – it is a way of illustrating the story and adding visual interest, however, I don’t think it worked well enough. The dancer was both not enough of a character, and too much of a distraction. I also found the annoyingly misogynistic way the story was told (man on stage describing the abuse of a voiceless woman) was exacerbated by the presence of this silent figure.
This was, for me, the main problem with the show. Yes, Lulu is a story about an abused and ultimately murdered woman, but as the programme notes explain, she is also portrayed in some versions as a temptress, and a wild-child – tearing up the dance floors of gay Paree. I think, as the company had the freedom to tell the story however they wanted, it was therefore a shame that they chose to stick to the silent victim narrative, as they could have made it far more interesting.