Albery Theatre, London WC2
Opened 14 April, 2002

***** New musicians make this delicious "junk opera" even darker

The gruesome tales told here so inventively have always been a dark delight; now an edge of real menace has been added by David Thomas.

This gleefully grotesque adaptation of Heinrich Hoffmann's 19th-century Struwwelpeter cautionary tales for children (in which Harriet burns to death when she plays with matches, Conrad Suck-a-Thumb bleeds to death when the Scissor Man removes the offending digits, Fidgety Philip impales himself on the family's best cutlery and so forth) is simply magnificent.

The production's rich broth of grand Guignol, puppetry, Victorian toy theatre design and an infectious delight in the artifice of the whole process, led by the marvellous sepulchral deadpan of narrator Julian Bleach, combine to create 90 continuous minutes of bizarre, unholy fun. Earnest parents will blanch at the bleaker scenes even as their children revel in the gore and grotesquerie.

Original musicians The Tiger Lillies have been replaced by sometime Pere Ubu frontman David Thomas, whose vast form looms over proceedings and injects an element of uncertainty and even threat; his accompanists, Two Pale Boys, weave haunting abstract soundscapes. Still, though, anyone who has ever strayed even momentarily from the strictest canons of "good taste" will find it a magical, liberating experience.

Written for

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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