Theatre reviews: Lulu – A Murder Ballad and Some Girl I Used to Know

Lulu: A Murder Ballad. Picture: Tom Arber
Lulu: A Murder Ballad. Picture: Tom Arber
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Both at West Yorkshire Playhouse

Lulu – A Murder Ballad: **** by Yvette Huddleston

A decade after their last appearance in Leeds – with the hugely successful Shockheaded Peter – The Tiger Lillies brought their latest piece of steampunk music theatre to the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Lulu – A Murder Ballad is based on two plays – Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box – by 19th century German playwright Frank Wedekind and tells the sad story of Lulu, a young woman who is sexually exploited by a succession of lovers introduced to her by her father figure/pimp Shig.

The Tiger Lillies are Martyn Jacques, composer, pianist, singer and accordion player, accompanied by percussionist Mike Pickering and Adrian Stout on contra bass and Theremin. They are a striking presence on stage in their sharp suits and faces covered in dramatic black and white make-up. The narrative unfolds through Jacques’ cabaret-style songs on a beautifully designed set of gauze and stunning back projections which transport the audience back to a Berlin night club at the time of the Weimar Republic.

Significantly, Lulu (played by dancer Laura Caldow) has no voice – she has little say in her destiny – but her movements are more eloquent than any words. There is no denying the subject matter is dark, disturbing and challenging while the storytelling employs visceral language and imagery to sometimes shocking effect.

As Lulu’s existence becomes increasingly degraded and her soul ever more corrupted, there is a growing sense of inevitable tragedy.

A unique piece of theatre and a searingly affecting story, extraordinarily well told.

Some Girl I Used to Know: * by Nick Ahad

If the reviews for Chicago, Tell Me on a Sunday and Legally Blonde don’t at least prove that Denise Van Outen can act, they could be produced as evidence in a court case to back up the argument.

Her work in this dire one-woman musical show, could not. Van Outen, the former TV-presenter, DJ and musical theatre performer, has a technically very good voice. There’s no denying that. She can follow stage directions, again that much is clear.

But in Some Girl I Used to Know audiences will witness a performance with all the depth of Ilkley Lido’s shallow end in a drought and the emotional resonance of an X Factor contestant singing a Leonard Cohen song.

The premise is simple. Stephanie Canworth has launched her latest lingerie collection and her marriage has hit a rocky patch when old flame Sean “pokes” her on Facebook. Cue a trip down memory lane complete with musical hits from the 80s and a story that is so full of cliche and by-the-number writing it could have come from a dot-to-dot book. Perhaps I’m not being charitable – there were those in the audience who clearly enjoyed the show.

• To Feb 8, Hull New Theatre Feb 13-15.