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LULU - 4 Star review in The Times.

A great 4-star review for The Tiger Lillies new show 'Lulu - A Murder Ballad':

"Lulu never utters a word. Seen but not heard, she's the subject of this pretty stunning new piece of ballad theatre, inspired by Frank Wedekind's Lulu plays. Songwriter Martyn Jacques, fronting his three-man band the Tiger Lillies (of Shockheaded Peter fame), narrates the fille fatale's story: a dark tale of childhood grooming, followed by manifold forms of prostitution and her death at Jack the Ripper's hands.

In his Grand Guignol makeup, Jacques is a sinister monster, his jowly face smeared ghoul-white, with blackened eyes under a brown bowler. He sings the ballad as if half-possessed by Lulu's abusers and pimps, who range from slum-dwellers to those in high society. As he does so, his voice switches between a foul-mouthed growl and his mesmerising falsetto - like a degenerate choirboy fallen in with gypsy-punk and Berlin cabaret jazz. His sidekicks back his accordion with thrumming contra bass and drums, and the creepy, quivering warble of a theremin.

Meanwhile, the dancer Laura Caldow is glimpsed through gauze scrims on a raised stage behind the band, this being ballad theatre plus a solo ballerina. Early on, as a young kept woman, Caldow's Lulu turns slowly en pointe, like a music-box doll, as if compelled to perform for voyeurs. Later, she flits between a beaming cancan and mimed assaults. Director-designer Mark Holthusen frames her in swirling, phantasmagoric projections of fragmented, belle époque interiors. In her death scene, a blood-red explosion flowers on her bedsit wall, accompanied by a frenzied crescendo from the band and a screeched suggestion that she might have felt ecstatically released from misery.

What's clever about this production is that - by being manifestly male-dominated - it actually foregrounds the fact that Lulu is the product of twisted male fantasies and patriarchal mechanisms. It is sharply aware of this and ultimately condemns it. Though nonverbal, Caldow is powerfully sympathetic, imbued with innocence and resilience en route. The music is mournful, not simply menacing. Beyond that death scene, Jacques's coda is in fact the scorching climax, damning the Jack to hell. So morally provocative, intriguingly two-edged. A startlingly alternative commission, co-produced by Opera North."

Kate Bassett.
 

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