The war poets find their voice with The Tiger Lillies

Micro-review: A Dream Turned Sour – The Tiger Lillies @ Battersea Arts Centre

It remains questionable whether A Dream Turned Sour can be considered as theatre but since it acts as one of the closing shows of the 2014 LIFT Festival, and has otherwise been ignored by the massed ranks of music critics who are clearly more enamoured by the potential for a dream collaboration between Dolly and Metallica at Glastonbury than in writing about this warped, reimagining of the celebrated poetry of the first world war, it is up to Civilian Theatre to share its thoughts.

Tiger LilliesTo those not experienced in The Tiger Lillies it is a forbidding opening – ‘Death’ repeated over and over in a gravelly, atonal voice that oppressively (and impressively) fills the great space of the Battersea Arts Centre main hall. It is the start of a performance (and with The Tiger Lillies it most certainly is a performance) by a band at complete ease with what they do – and so they should be having successfully mined the furrow of alternative cabaret for over two decades.

Their strange mix of Kurt Weill-esque cabaret, gypsy, gothic humour, and operating in a register that veers between the rasp of Tom Waits and a startling falsetto underpinned by a ferocious operatic power is quite unlike anyone else. It is certainly hard to imagine another band undercutting the reflexive conservative styling that we tend to put on the work of the war poets with quite such vigour and zeal.

The Tiger Lillies have reclaimed the bitterness and the hatred, the terror and the contempt for the generals back home, that often gets lost amongst the plaudits and the GCSE-syllabus analysis. There is a black humour in their renderings of ‘Rendezvous With Death’ and ‘God How I Hate You’ that forces you to go back to the original readings to realise the horror that the lines contain.

Others, like Wilfred Owen’s ‘Nothing Ever Happens’, sound so at ease in their new home it is hard to imagine them in any other way. However the disgust never goes away and the venom builds to such a furious, glorious crescendo of disgust at those most famous lines ‘Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori’ that the audience must nearly cower at the assault.

Despite the most curious style of delivery, there is great articulacy in the delivery by frontman, Martyn Jacques. Each poem has been carefully thought through to maximise the impact through presentation and the words are never lost despite the cacophony of noise coming from the three piece.

Fans of The Tiger Lillies can be assured they have not dampened their natural tendencies as a sop to the serious subject matter, and fans of the war poets can be assured that the poems have been treated with the care and intelligence the power of the writing deserves.

Listen to Dulce et Decorum Est by The Tiger Lillies

More about The Tiger Lillies

More about Lift Festival 2014

Poking the Russian Bear

Opus No 7Moscow School of Dramatic Art Theatre (Dmitry Krymov Lab) @ Barbican Theatre, until 14 June 2014

We are in the middle of LIFT 2014; the annual festival that is both glorious celebration of international theatre and sober reminder of the staid and conservative nature of so many Anglo-American creations.

This can rarely be seen as starkly as in the spell-binding Opus No 7; concocted by the Dmitry Krymov Laboratory, it 13467788355_dbe5f9fa69_bcombines sublime beauty with haunting imagery to create a remarkable balance that allows a curiously harmonious co-existence of opacity and clarity. As it overwhelms the senses one is left with the impression that this is a performance that could not have been conceived of in this country let alone created here.

Watching Opus No 7 is like working through a cryptic crossword clue. The explanation of the image is always tantalisingly close but remains impenetrable until resolved. There are no easy answers but one holds on to the images as they morph fluidly from one startling creation to another with faith that a narrative will emerge.

OpusNo7Images coalesce until they suggest an idea. The piece is often without dialogue and usually underscored with the lightest of musical notes, faintly directing and reacting to the action. The first half is titled ‘Genealogy’ and tells the tale of the Jews in the second world war but with continually hints to the wider narrative of Jewish history and their earliest beginnings. Biblical reference points abound and their cast have a childish innocence that harks back to the earliest days of God’s children.

They are nameless figures who slowly wander through their past claiming fragments – taking the form of letters, photos and memories – to shape their lost identity. They seem scattered to the wind, lost as individuals but finding each other as one finds ones community. They exist in a hinterland reminiscent of Beckett and the image of Krapp winding through his old tapes comes to mind as they pore through scraps of books becoming intrigued by the unfamiliar words, the sounds and shapes of names that no longer mean anything to them.

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