By Lisa Lanzi
The macabre and talented English trio who tantalized and startled us in Shockheaded Peter at the 2000 Adelaide Festival are back with this visual/musical tale based on the life and works of author and poet Edgar Allen Poe. With references to Poe’s stories including The Raven (“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary”), The Tell-tale Heart and The Pit and the Pendulum (first published in 1842), director Paul Golub brilliantly weaves together narrative, text, original music and large scale projected animations to surprise, intrigue and delight audiences. Golub speaks of rediscovering Poe (1809 – 1849) at the ‘bottom of his bookshelf’ after many years and being surprised at what a varied and talented writer he is. It also turns out that Poe inspired many creatives to come including: Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Dostoevsky, Borges and Alfred Hitchcock!
The Tiger Lillies with their slightly malevolent, ghoulish make-up and sardonic personas are song-writer Martyn Jacques (lead vocals, piano, ukulele, accordion), Adrian Stout (bass, guitar, saw, theremin, vocals) and Jonas Golland (percussion, vocals). The group were formed in 1989 by Jacques and have become a world-wide phenomenon based on his distinctive and soulful pure tenor/falsetto vocals, astonishing song-writing talents and the skilful musicianship of the group as a whole.
Martyn Jacques has composed each of the songs in this musical theatre offering and also portrays the cunning black-suited and lightly feathered Raven character who seduces Poe with the promise of ‘more black ink’ to satisfy his craving for literary inspiration. The dark Raven character also teases, tricks and impels Poe toward madness and despair within the crazy confines of an animated palace of many rooms, staircases and multiple entry and exit points.
Peter Caulfield is compelling as ‘the poet’ in this production and has some serious acting chops with award-winning theatre, musicals, film and TV appearances under his belt. ‘The poet’ is a Chaplin-esque character with mother-issues and extreme who is flung into varied situations and escalating madness. Lucy Kilpatrick has a huge task flitting between the maniacal ‘Doris’ with beautifully nuanced zany physicality and the roles of ‘Eleanora’, ‘the mother’ and the nurse’.
As good as the acting is, it is the haunting music and the spectacle of the visuals directed by Mark Holthusen that feature. Holthusen’s artistic accomplishments span photography, motion, theatre and digital innovation and his creations transform the performance arena for this project into a phantasmagorical wonderland with ‘built’ environments, twining plant-life and Poe-inspired artefacts and whimsical creatures. The first theatrical collaboration between Holthusen and the Tiger Lillies was for ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ which premiered in 2013.
Despite a few small technical issues on Friday night, the production is a fantastic, gothic-inspired flowing journey with a plethora of moods created by the melding of the original and captivating music, visuals, excellent lighting and the ‘spell’ of the performers. This is a Fringe must-see, especially amongst the vast grandeur that is Elder Hall.
Photos Supplied by Lisa Lanzi
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.