Seven Deadly Sins: bad taste and excess in the filthiest show in town
Charles Spencer reviews Seven Deadly Sins at the New Players Theatre, London WC2
The Tiger Lillies must be one of the weirdest and most disconcerting bands of all time, right up there with Captain Beefheart in his Trout Mask Replica days, Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention and Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd.
They first invaded my consciousness when they provided the music to Shockheaded Peter, that wonderfully weird and terrifying stage production of gory cautionary tales designed to give the kiddies nightmares for months.
Now they are back with an X-rated production, Seven Deadly Sins, a sick and sleazy cabaret featuring a Punch and Judy show (though Judy has had a sex change, is now called Jude and is Mr Punch's gay civil partner) and the burlesque performer Ophelia Bitz, who exposes acres of wobbly white flesh and not a few missing teeth.
The Tiger Lillies themselves are led by Martyn Jaques, who for this performance has covered his face with black and white make up, so that he resembles either a savage death's-head or a horribly mutilated giant panda, depending on your point of view.
Plump to the point of obesity and with a plaited pigtail that extends to the small of his back, Jaques usually sings in an extraordinary high and penetrating falsetto while accompanying himself on accordion, piano or ukulele.
But he is also capable of a growling, snarling bass that makes Tom Waits sound effeminate. What lies between these two extremes he never condescends to reveal.
Meanwhile Adrian Stout (who is very thin) plays upright electric bass, musical saw and theremin, while Adrian Huge, who is of normal size and seated on a lavatory behind a child's drum-kit, provides percussion, kazoo, and an astonishing range of disgusting farting noises during a song about gluttony that proves a masterclass in gross-out bad taste.
Mind you, bad taste and violent excess are the keynotes of the show - coprophilia, flying turds, buggery, dildos, infanticide, smack addiction and graphic lust all feature in a performance that has an unmistakeably sulphurous whiff of the infernal region about it.
Jaques's bleary, mournful songs, though strongly influenced by Brecht/Weill and Waits, have an extraordinary knack of alternating hysteria with a rueful way-of-the-worldish shrug, and the best of his numbers achieve a decadence that touches on the divine.
The more extreme Jaques gets, the better he is, whether in a harrowing number about domestic violence, the opiate haze of a song about sloth, or the vivid vocal postcard from hell that ends the show.
He excels at melodies that verge on the rancid, and at bringing his songs to sudden extreme conclusions. My one complaint is that he doesn't always articulate his dark, atmospheric lyrics as clearly as he might.
There is, however, no mistaking his sinister charisma, and I was also highly taken by the alarmingly alluring Ophelia Bitz, though I regretted that she deprived us of the strip-tease routine complete with nipple tassels that surely ought to be part of any burlesque performer's art.
I'm afraid a spot of fire-eating at the end is inadequate compensation, but gobsmacked credit to Nathan Evans for the filthiest puppet show I have ever seen.
The prudish and the squeamish should avoid this show like the plague, but those with a taste for the dark side will find it just the ticket.
Until April 26. Tickets: 0870 429 6883.