LULU – A MURDER BALLAD
words and music by Martyn Jacques based on the plays Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box by Frank Wedekind.
Linbury Studio Theatre Royal Opera House Bow Street Covent Garden WC2E 9DD To 28 November 2015.
Wed-Fri 7.45pm Sat 6pm performances sold out.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7304 4000.
Review: Carole Woddis 24 November.
Sensuously horrific if ultimately falling short.
Lulu, who is she? Femme fatale, fallen woman, whore? Ever since Frank Wedekind created his young temptress, Lulu has been inspiration for wildly contrasting interpreters from Alban Berg’s 1937 opera to Lou Reed just before his death in 2013.
The Tiger Lillies’ iconoclastic Martyn Jacques has now turned his hand to Lulu and using Wedekind’s verses as a basis, come up with this Opera North/West Yorkshire Playhouse/Warwick Arts Centre production, first seen last year in Leeds, framing Lulu within the context of `grooming’ – unequivocally a `victim’, exploited initially by a grasping father and subsequently passed from male hand to male hand.
Jacques, with his Lindsay Kemp-like blanched face, blackened eyes and blood red mouth, as ever is extraordinary, swooping between bitter curled lip and high, raging falsetto, bequeathing every word at least double, sometimes treble meanings. And no one dares to take a song so slowly or pointedly. The old classic, `Love for Sale’ is spat out with rare venom.
Accompanied by Adrian Stout (bass and the beautiful, melancholy musical saw) and Jonas Golland (percussionist), Jacques’ rhythms switch shatteringly from lilting waltz to blasted repetition, nowhere more so than in the climactic Jack the Ripper coda, as if torn from Jacques’ very body: “Burn, burn in hell”, he yells whilst immediately asking whether Lulu, murdered by Jack, died with gratitude on her face, “Liberated from the squalid hypocrisy of all of them?”
Yet despite the ferocity and grandeur, this Lulu’s impact is less than you might expect.
Animator, photographer, director Mark Holthusen contrasts Jacques’ furious irony with a series of clever, sliding animations of baroque interiors, small town windows and poignantly, the base of the Eiffel Tower. More questionably – if coincidentally casting a fresh comment on the ballet dancer as object of male fantasy – Lulu is dancer Laura Caldow: delightful, gamine, forced into ever-increasing motion but only occasionally conveying the sexual danger and ambiguity at the heart of Lulu’s character.
I’d still walk on hot coals to listen to Jacques and The Tiger Lillies. But last year’s World War I homage, A Dream Turns Sour carried more weight.
Cast: The Tiger Lillies: Martyn Jacques, Adrian Stout, Jonas Golland.
Dancer: Laura Caldow.
Director/Designer: Mark Holthusen.
Lighting: Tim Skelly.
Presented by Opera North, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Warwick Arts Centre.
First performance of Lulu – A Murder Ballad was at the Courtyard Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds on 28 January 2014.
Commissioned by Opera North Projects.