Tiger Lillies, the acclaimed, macabre three-piece circus of gothic cabaret, bring their show to the refined Millfield Arts Centre, performing a selection of songs from their dark and depraved repertoire.
The trio (Martyn Jacques, Adrian Huge and Adrian Stout) have devised and performed their sick verse for over twenty years. Described as a style of Brechtian ‘gypsy-cabaret’ or gothic burlesque, they have attracted a devout following of fans through their 27 albums, 3 DVDs and extensive tours.
As I enter the theatre it’s clear there’s a congregation of the faithful in this evening. It looks like Hallowe’en, and everyone’s expecting a night of lewd and twisted entertainment. I’m anticipating a dark circus, and judging from the poster, a jaw-dropping spectacle.
Inspired by Brecht and the Threepenny Opera, their songs vary between strange ballads and jaunty tangos, evoking life’s seedy underbelly with tales of prostitution, bestiality and murder. A song that begins with the disturbing line ‘I murder little children’ soon turns into an upbeat jig with the chorus ‘He’s a baby killer’, while Huge plays the drums with a baby doll.
The Tiger Lillies are an odd trio; a mix of a 1920s-chic jazz player (Stout), a fat Englishman on holiday (Huge) and a deviant carnival clown (Jacques). Jacques sits behind the piano or trudges to centre stage to play the accordion and sings in a sneering, occasionally warbling voice. His persona alternates between a sordid lecher and a falsetto-voiced clown, like a ‘blue meanie’ from Yellow Submarine.
The performance however, isn’t entirely horrific. Stout and Huge play pleasantly along on double bass and drums, giving Jacques the unnerving air of an evil Pied Piper or a villain out of a Roald Dahl book. There is something hypnotic and alluring about the performance which provokes visceral feelings of unease and discomfort. It feels like a trance-inducing nursery rhyme or a nightmarish state of delirium brought on by fever. It’s all slightly surreal and disturbing.
Parts of it are compelling, but I get the impression the extremities of tonight’s act have been toned down. If I’d seen this in a dark and damp cave-like venue (not uncommon at the Edinburgh Fringe) it would have been very different. Instead we are here at the Millfield Arts Centre where a sweet old woman tears our tickets and sells us ice-cream.
The show therefore lacks a certain atmosphere. The guys are capable of an in-your-face performance, and continue to produce unusual and interesting theatre. Sadly, this time they disappointed and instead came out with something slightly quaint, perhaps eccentric. They even manage to make a song about sexual relations with sheep – featuring the chorus “Baa baa baa, I’m back behind bars!” – seem a little cute.
This article was originally published at Spoonfed.co.uk here: http://www.spoonfed.co.uk/spooners/samgould-5043/tiger-lilles-at-millfield-arts-centre-2714/
I return to the Lyric Theatre this evening for the second instalment of Richard Herring’s comedy showcase, and the night promises a first class line-up. Aside from this year’s winner of the Edinburgh Comedy Award, Tim Key, I eagerly await the outcome as I give my verdict on how one of the most successful comedy writers in the country, Stephen Merchant, fares at stand-up.
Richard Herring ambles on stage looking considerably sharper than last month, dressed in a suit that gives the illusion of authority, only betrayed by his unsteady laid-back gait. His wit is on top form as he dives into the comedy gift of last week’s Question Time, asking the audience; ‘So tell me, did anyone turn from being not racist, to racist?’, with unhidden sarcasm.
The first act Paul Sinha is a shamefully disappointing opener to the evening as he delivers his ten minute monologue yelling down the microphone with a tedious and unengaging delivery. Some of his material is funny, but the audience seems to feel awkward as he laments his story of being single since 1991, and his delivery is a continuous rant which lacks any subtlety of tone as he stumbles over his words.
Relative newcomer Doc Brown picks the audience up with his likeable demeanour and cheeky grin. This young comedian has been showing his face at several venues recently and receives Herring’s wholehearted support, being tipped for big things in the coming year. His dexterity with words makes the comedian/rapper an enjoyable act as he translates his London slang into middle-class pronunciation.
But moving on to one of the highlights of the evening, the truly unique persona of Tim Key is utterly refreshing as he wonders on stage, straightening his tie, coughing, casting squinty looks into the lights and at the audience, giving the impression of a drunken best-man about to perform his speech. It takes confidence to remain on stage in silence for the opening few minutes, but it is a credit to his ability as a physical comedian that he can get away with it.
Reaching into every pocket, pulling out variously different coloured notebooks which contain his poetic prose, he performs his outlandish poetry to the accompaniment of soothing music, but the ambience is periodically spoilt by random Tourettes outbursts, and the audience is never sure what’s coming next. His readings are interrupted by surreal quips such as ‘Got to break it up a bit. Now I will read out a list of animals I could fit into’, or commenting on the efficiency of a minidisc case for carrying Jacob’s crackers, which he aptly demonstrates by pulling one out of his pocket. From what I can see of his originality, material, persona and performance; Key fully deserved this year’s Edinburgh Award.
The act that we’ve all been waiting for however is the 6ft 7in form of Stephen Merchant. There is no doubt that Gervais’ The Invention of Lying missed his guiding hand, but with questions abound over whether this acclaimed and award-winning writer can succeed on stage, I admit to sitting nervously to see how he will perform. He bursts on stage full of energy, ducking under the door of the set, strolls straight up to someone in the front row and says ‘Well this is it. What do you want to talk about? I don’t know’. It gets off to a predictable start as his material centres around his height and appearance, but it’s instantly clear that Merchant is a great performer.
What’s strange is that he doesn’t acknowledge his fame, but rather plays an exaggerated persona of a pedantic geek, as if no one present had ever heard of him. He sits on the edge of the stage, cross-legged like a child, debating the James Bond films in a private conversation with someone in the front row, stopping occasionally to say ‘Do you want to tell them, or shall I?’ Some of his best material focuses on his renowned tightness with money and the role of men in the dating game; ‘Take her to the theatre. Pay for that. No it’s fine. Dinner. Pay for that. Then you get to take her home. Probably take a taxi. Pay for that. Then you get to her place and she says ‘Take me to heaven and back’. I mean for Christ’s sake love, I just took you to Nando’s and back. You do some of the work!’
The voice of The Office is ever present under the surface, but it’s nice to see him experimenting with different material and delivery. People warn against meeting your heroes lest your illusions be shattered. My trepidation however was unfounded as Merchant was more than capable of delivering a great set on stage. To see him in this environment really highlights his importance in that writing partnership, and signals that he still has a lot more potential in him as a writer and performer.
Herring’s comedy showcase has once again delivered a great night of laughs and he returns next month with another line-up of talent, and an undisclosed special guest. Make sure to get your tickets early.
The real-life Moe Szyslak plays live at the Hammersmith Apollo tonight, armed with his dry country drawl and splenetic humour, to deliver another scathing condemnation of society.
Playing to a packed house (it is the filming of his live DVD tonight), Rich Hall walks out onto the stage to the applause of an admiring crowd, and in true curmudgeonly fashion looks around as if he’d rather be somewhere else.
Tonight he performs as the warm-up act to, well, um, himself. That is, to his comic alter-ego Otis Lee Crenshaw, and anarchic country band the Honky Tonk Assholes. But I’m getting ahead of myself, for the first hour he serves up a characteristic slice of vitriolic ranting.
Hall shouts about the state of America’s 7 trillion dollars of debt and how easily you can attain credit, screaming ‘all you have to do is push a pencil across the table with your nose, and congratulations, you’re now a home owner’. His material lays out a cutting indictment on the hypocrisy of society, television, politics, popular culture and particularly Tom Cruise, who he refers to as ‘that four-foot scientology midget’.
His best stuff bites at Barack Obama’s ‘Audacity of Hope’ which he picks apart with the sarcastic lines ‘Whoa Barack, stop being so audacious. I mean come on how audacious can you be. Isn’t that just below wishful thinking, and just above performing a rain dance?’
He then mocks Kanye West’s pathetic publication of self-help ‘Thank You and You’re Welcome’ (a 52-page pithy pamphlet which required a co-author to write), wherein Kanye states he doesn’t read much because ‘books be so wordy and shit’. I’ve noticed that too Kanye.
But something is missing here. His act doesn’t have the surreal edge that I expected from his television persona. Sure, his material is still passionate and angry, but his delivery is more akin to shouting into a microphone than delivering a carefully cynical tirade, and misses the timing which would have you laughing when you least expected it.
Thankfully the evening gets better from the second half when we welcome to the stage his sharper, quicker, less inhibited bandana-wearing alter-ego Otis Lee Crenshaw, as Hall lets himself go in a character he clearly feels very comfortable playing. The rapport with the crowd is great, as Crenshaw writes an entire song on the spot about a biology student in the front row, complete with sardonic verse and perfect rhyme, and cries to another: ‘So you’re a civil engineer ay? Well better than those damn renegade engineers’.
The pace and energy of the second half is a lot sharper, and the band are great, promising to turn everyone in the audience on to country music by the end of the night. They are certainly accomplished and stand out above most musical comedy which can often feel banal. To the backing of rapid banjo Crenshaw announces: ‘they say you should write songs about the things closest to you, so this is about my neighbour’.
Hall is certainly quick, as his interaction with the crowd shows, but most of his act is just rambling. I get the impression that if you were the screechy and annoying American sitting behind me shouting ‘Oh my god that’s so funny’ every five minutes, then it was probably exactly you’re kind of thing, but for me it just lacked any real personality.
The second half of the show certainly redeemed it as Hall’s persona turns from grumbling malcontent to a character with real attitude, and we leave the theatre still smiling.
Sitting in the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, I’m looking forward to a varied stand-up bill this evening. The night is hosted by the insightful Richard Herring who ambles out on stage looking like a London university student, despite his 42 years of age, and proudly announces that he was voted the Worst Comedy Experience by the Daily Telegraph in 2005. His wry smile and glances at the crowd draw the audience into his confidence as he sneers at such an accolade.
Always smart and intelligent, Herring fills the space between each act with a quick wit steeped in irony, playing on his image as a dirty forty-year-old man as he lechers over a young woman in the crowd, before declaring that he is of course joking, and that he believes ‘women should be treated as if they were equal’. He then goes on to introduce the first act saying ‘I don’t want to do too much pratting about. I think I’ve pretty much succeeded in whipping you up into a frenzy’, and welcomes impressionist Alistair McGowan to the stage.
McGowan made a return to stand up at the fringe earlier this year after a 13 year absence, so Im looking forward to seeing how his work fares away from the comfortable set-up of television. Immediately he comes across as an engaging and likeable character who’s comfortable in front of an audience.
Taking off Michael Parkinson, Dylan Moran and Richard Herring’s ex-comedy partner Stewart Lee with a startling likeness, his impressions are uncanny and immediately enjoyable. However, overall his material did rely too heavily on a knowledge of sport. Perhaps this was more favourable than venturing into politics, as his Gordon Brown seemed more like an impression of an impression, in imitation of the talented Rory Bremner. While the impressions are good, some of his jokes are fairly weak, and his transposition of characters to different settings is slightly too similar to David Brent’s failed attempt at comedy in The Office.
Newcomer Naz Osmanoglu bursts onto the stage with enthusiasm and a twitchy energy about him which raises a smile. He has some funny material on his Turkish father and his obsession with his son growing a beard, but an odd routine about the multiple uses of a towel leaves the audience a bit cold. Despite this the young comic has a confidence about him which I’m sure will see him do well.
One of the biggest names on the bill, Al Murray, is the same as ever. Though his act is supposed to be ironic, you can’t help feeling as you watch him on stage yelling at an old man for being old, shouting ‘What’s that Granddad, it’s not the same as it was in your day? Can you hear me?!’ that after 15 years on stage this character has somewhat run its course.
By far the highlight of the evening is Wilson Dixon, a character comedian who performs as an American country singer. Straight away, his strange presence has the audience intrigued. He announces that he comes from Cripple Creek in America, asking in a country accent whether ‘there is anyone from the United Kingdoms in tonight?’. He then introduces a song off his first album (‘The Very Best of Wilson Dixon’), saying: ‘It goes a little something like this’, before pausing and correcting himself: ‘actually it goes exactly like this’.
Dixon has a great and original persona, delivering farcical one-liners similar to Demetri Martin and jokes which deteriorate into nothing after convoluted explanations. Accompanied by his guitar, he tells the story of a man who rolled into town one day, singing: ‘he came on a horse as big as a bus, in fact it could have been a bus, I didn’t see him arrive. He had no name… so we called him the man with no name… which ironically then became his name’. His slow and droll delivery has the audience laughing at every line.
Overall it’s been a great night of comedy in a fantastic venue. This gig is the first to welcome Richard Herring back to the Lyric Theatre for another season of laughs, as he continues to showcase his pick of stand-up talent throughout the autumn.
This article was originally written for Spoonfed.co.uk here: http://www.spoonfed.co.uk/spooners/samgould-5043/richard-herring-alistair-mcgowan-naz-osmanoglu-al-murray-and-wilson-dixon-at-the-lyric-theatre-1503/