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

Advance Notice – Highlights of the Autumn Season 2012

In recent days we have had announcements from both the Royal Court and Michael Grandage of their upcoming seasons. Representing the very different ends of the theatrical experience for audiences; the small intimately thrilling Royal Court where so many of our great playwrights were given a space to write and the cavernous and wallet-sapping Noel Coward Theatre, the name alone indicative of its West End heritage. It is heartening to think of Grandage’s past as Artistic Director of The Crucible and a ten-year stint at the Donmar and realise that it is still possible to trace a line from the heart of regional theatre all the way to the money-making centre of the British stage.

One might grumble about the prices of Grandage’s plays but it cannot be denied that a West End line-up containing two Shakespeare’s, a McDonagh and a new play by John Loga, whilst, maybe not groundbreaking, provides rather more interest than the usual fare of rehashed musicals, Coward revivals and vehicles for ageing American celebrities. Ticket prices may be steep at the top end but, as I have commented elsewhere, the £10 tickets actually undercut the National’s Travellex offer and, if star power is what you are after, provide fantastic value for money. Whilst advertised as ‘moderately restricted view’ I have found the seats to be absolutely adequate and you would miss virtually none of the action. Given they are available in both the Royal and Upper Circles they arguably offer better value for money than the Gallery tickets that are the next cheapest but are  already edging towards an uncomfortable £27.50 for seats right up in the gods.

With information about the National Theatre and the Barbican already available we can see that the upcoming months look very rosy indeed. And as a public service, Civilian Theatre is very happy to provide you with a month-by-month guide to the most interesting plays over the coming months (a growing requirement as it is becoming more and more evident that theatre is going the same way as gigs and stand-up comedy and selling its major events anything up to 18 months in advance – Jude Law in Hamlet in November 2013 anyone? Not busy I hope?)

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September 2012

London Road (National)

This may be a last chance to catch one of the most interesting and innovative musicals in recent years. It sadly had the misfortune to go up against the Matilda juggernaut in all the major award ceremonies and as a result came home empty-handed but this tale, based on documentary footage taken from Ipswich in the aftermath of the discovery of five bodies in 2006 and put to music by Adam Cork, is one of the most complex and affecting new musicals in a long time. A real slow-burn hit, its success can be seen in the major summer revival it was given by the National just a year after it was first introduced. September is possibly the last time you will be seeing it in quite a while so go while you can.

Mademoiselle Julie (Barbican)

Hopefully not setting myself up for a fall after the general disappointment of Cate Blanchett in Big and Small – where the size of the play failed to meet the stature of the actor – we see Juliette Binoche meet Strindberg as another entry in the Barbican’s generally excellent international programming. Binoche is one of the deserved greats of French acting; an actress capable of turning down Spielberg’s Jurassic Park for a role in Kieslowski’s Three Colours: Blue (now that is range). The set photos are fascinating and suggest a radical take on a work famed for its naturalistic excellence:

love and information (Royal Court)

Whilst not to everyone’s tastes, a new play by Caryl Churchill is certainly not something to be ignored. One of Britain’s leading playwrights over the last 40 years and an icon for the current generation of female writers who grew up on Top Girls and Cloud 9, Churchill returns to the Royal Court with a new play, love and information. Details are scarce other but it looks likely that it will be a continuation of Churchill’s abiding fascination with non-linear story-telling and the use of the less naturalistic elements of theatre, as she creates a panoramic landscape of over 100 characters.

Hamlet (Queen Elizabeth Hall)

In what was very high up Civilian Theatre’s ‘Must Watch’ list was this import from Denmark – The Tiger Lillies performing Hamlet. Unfortunately recent news tells us that it has been cancelled for ‘scheduling issues’ but if they can find a slot for it in 2013 then I urge all to go and see it. The Tiger Lillies describe their own music as Brechtian street opera and are instantly memorable for all of those who had the fortune to see their version of Shockheaded Peter many moons ago. For those who have missed their vaudevillian morality tales then here is a performance of a song from Shockheaded Peter:

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For more on the Autumn Season, including highlights from October and November then please click through for more.