by Olga Neuwirth.
Young Vic 66 The Cut SE1 8LZ To 24 September 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm no performance 19 September.
Runs 1hr 50min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7922 2922.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 14 September.
New view of Lulu: the view from inside the world’s sexiest woman.
Among 20th-century Vienna’s famous serialist composers only Alban Berg gravitated instinctively to opera. His sources, Georg Büchner’s fragmentary Woyzeck and Frank Wedekind’s two-part ‘Lulu’ plays, belong to the jagged, socially critical drama which critic Max Spalter labelled ‘Brecht’s Tradition’.
Berg’s expression of that remains present as Olga Neuwirth reduces the scale and adds to Berg’s score, providing her own final act (Berg never finished Lulu). But it’s contrasted, or compromised, by an easier idiom invoking the update (from Wedekind’s 1900s through Berg’s 1930s to America’s mid-century) and jazz influences of the southern US relocation.
Wedekind’s Lulu was an ‘earth spirit’ provoking sexual desire in a world where men possessed most power and money. Neuwirth wants Lulu to take possession of her story, presenting it as her recall of non-ageing years (would a spirit age? No, but a woman would) from the hydrogen bomb (1952 or 1956, according to which test is reported among news flashes inserted at various moments) to late-1960s Black Power.
Hair-styles (aka wigs) tell all in John Fulljames’ production. Angel Blue’s finely-sung Lulu passes from polite conformism to glamour extravagance mixing Black identity with compliant glamour, into an Activist frizz recalling Civil Rights activist and Black Panther-associated Angela Davis.
Though men profit from her, American Lulu increasingly sports a gun and is willing to use it. Her only relationship of any depth, developed largely in Neuwirth’s third act, is with Eleanor, replacement for Wedekind’s doting lesbian Countess, here Jacqui Dankworth’s singer, microphone where handbag might have been, singing Neuwirth’s smooth jazz music.
Instead of the London slum where Lulu was originally murdered, she’s finally surrounded, like Richard III before Bosworth, by the dead men she’s seen off, before emerging from the curtain-veiled stage which has created a sense of sexy mystery, to fail to be revenged on the whole pack of the audience.
There have been complaints this traduces Berg’s great opera. Maybe; but, as Peter Hall said when people complained about his mucking Shakespeare around in ‘The Wars of the Roses’, the original’s still there. What’s not to gain in having this as comment upon it?
Lulu: Angel Blue.
Clarence: Robert Winslade Anderson.
Dr Bloom: Donald Maxwell.
Jimmy: Jonathan Stoughton.
Eleanor: Jacqui Dankworth.
Photographer/Young Man: Paul Curievici.
Athlete: Simon Wilding.
Professor/Banker/Police Commissioner: Paul Reeves.
Director: John Fulljames.
Conductor: Gerry Cornelius.
Designer: Magda Willi.
Lighting: Guy Hoare.
Sound: Carolyn Downing.
Video: Finn Ross.
Dialect coach: Emma Woodvine.
Fight advisor: Alison de Burgh.
Assistant director: Finn Beames.