Music and Words: Martyn Jacques
Direction and Design: Mark Holthusen
Reviewer: Sue Collier
On entering the auditorium, the audience are introduced to the era of Lulu via the sound of early 20th Century Berlin Cabaret songs. We encounter three musicians on stage, together with a young girl Lulu.
Lulu’s story is eerily narrated by her exploitative pimp, the revolting Shig (Martyn Jacques) through song, accordion, piano and ukulele playing. His songs are supported by fellow Tiger Lillies Adrian Stout (contra bass, musical saw, theremin, support vocals) and Mike Pickering (drums, percussion, toys). The character of Lulu is portrayed by Laura Caldow, via the medium of dance.
While the Tiger Lillies programme acknowledges that “this is not a happy or a nice story”, this turns out to be somewhat of an understatement. Lulu is continually exploited by her pimp and sexually abused by a string of lovers. When she murders one of her exploiters and goes on the run to avoid arrest, her sad and futile life journey leads towards eventual total destruction when she becomes the victim of Jack the Ripper.
The varied medium of music used within this performance is fascinating and entirely entertaining. The grimness of Lulu’s life is emphasised by the clever bass rhythm throughout. At times the music is almost mocking of Lulu and Shig’s lyrics and are accompanied by comments of “yes he’s bad”. Some of the most desperate stories, particularly suicide, are shockingly represented by more lively tunes. The use of percussion is incredibly effective at portraying the threatening seediness of the era.
This story is about the poverty and inequality of life in the various slums Lulu encounters throughout her journey. Shig doesn’t see her as an individual human being with needs and feelings of her own, instead treating her as an object of use. To survive, Lulu is totally at the mercy of men who have the power over her.
Laura Caldow’s dance story touchingly portrays the initially innocent young Lulu who develops over time into a doll like figure, before declining into a tired, desperate and lifeless woman, totally dependent on the exploitative Shig. One almost feels relief when eventually Lulu is murdered by Jack the Ripper, because at least her miserable existence is finally over.
What comes across with this performance is the way it challenges the audience to face up to such an uncomfortable subject. Jacques successful portrayal of the revolting Shig as seedy, slimy and repulsive really makes one’s flesh creep. Fabulous make up effectively emphasises Shig’s abhorrently conscious free nature, as we watch him continually hiring Lulu out for men to abuse.
An exciting element of this performance is Tim Skelly’s fabulous lighting and film effects used to help tell the story and move it forward through time. In particular, the scenes Egypt, London, and the snow storm by the Eiffel Tower are incredibly effective.
The audience within the full house at the Courtyard Theatre clearly indicated their attention was focussed entirely throughout Lulu’s progression towards her doom. The performance received loud applause and cheers of appreciation for the entertaining, clever and thoughtful presentation of such an uncomfortable story.
Although, at one hour forty five minutes (including interval) this performance is long enough due to the grim nature of the subject matter, nevertheless it is a unique experience which is well recommended.
Runs until: 1st Feb 2014