The Tiger Lillies' latest collaborative presentation, The Gorey End, is not a direct follow-up to the phenomenon that was Shockheaded Peter. Like that show, it features adaptations by accordionist and "castrato" vocalist Martyn Jacques of another's works, in this case unpublished writings by the late poet and illustrator Edward Gorey. But where the earlier piece also had an extreme theatricality and a broad narrative, the current offering places the songs in a straightforward concert format, augmented by a series of recitations from Gorey's extant works by a clutch of actresses led by Eleanor Bron. It's a kind of sepulchrally comic revue.
The proceedings are once again compered by the striking figure of Julian Bleach, this time costumed as a living reproduction of Death from the frontispiece of Gorey's "greatest hit", "The Gashlycrumb Tinies" ("A is for Amy who fell down the stairs/B is for Basil, assaulted by bears..."), and indeed accompanied for that poem by a young girl, making a picture at once winsome and sinister.
As with Heinrich Hoffmann whose Struwwelpeter verses were the source of Shockheaded Peter, Gorey's grimly chortlesome perspective meshes closely with Jacques' own songwriting persona, and works well with the group's grotesque Weimar-cabaret arrangements. On the first night at the Lyric Hammersmith, some of Jacques' vocals were rather submerged in the mix, obscuring the full grisly glory of a stream of deaths resulting from the mysterious elixir "QRV", or the tale of "The Besotted Mother", whose babe was dressed entirely in bunny fur and consequently torn to pieces by a pack of frenzied dogs.
The Lillies appear here alongside the Kronos Quartet, who sometimes provide simple chordal washes to fill out the sound of the basic trio; however, when Kronos are allowed their head, as on a cautionary tale about addiction to "Gin" or on the gorgeous encore of "Flying Robert" from the Hoffmann show, they attain their characteristic crystalline beauty. Atmosphere is added by Adrian Stout occasionally switching from contrabass to the eerily whooping musical saw.
The Gorey End lacks the sheer spectacular firepower to emulate its predecessor show's crossover sensation, but stands as an effective bridge to The Tiger Lillies' work in their own right and demonstrates why they are held so dear by such a disparate range of luminaries in various other performance fields.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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