Robert Tanitch reviews The Tiger Lillies at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London
The Tiger Lillies are an anarchic three piece band, noted for their distinctive melancholy songs, black humour and Berlin Cabaret style. Their fame began in 1999 when they appeared in Shockheaded Peter, a brilliantly staged version of Heinrich Hoffmann’s macabre Strewwelpeter.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a creepy, Gothic, life-in-death nightmare, is a perfect subject for them. The mariner, you will remember, callously shot an albatross, a bird of good omen, and brought down a curse on himself, the crew and the ship they were sailing in.
Coleridge knew all about pain, despair and isolation. Allegorical and symbolic, his parable of sin, guilt, terror and redemption, first published in 1798, is open to a wide variety of interpretations, religious, psychological, autobiographical and visual. The wood engravings by Gustav Doré are awesome.
The Tiger Lillies perform within a huge Victorian toy theatre where, dressed and made-up as spectral mariners, they look as if they are nine fathoms deep in a land of mist and snow. There are screens in front and behind them and on the screens are projected ghostly images capturing the supernatural voyage through strange seascapes, ominous white frozen wastelands and the burning towers of Hell.
It is this combination of the haunting music, the falsetto singing of Martyn Jacques and the amazing animation by Mark Holthusen which makes this production so special and so memorable. Jacques, alternating between accordion and piano, singing “Hypocrites” and “Living Hell”, is a soul in agony. It is easy to believe he shot the albatross.