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/