The Tiger Lillies' show Punch And Judy has bitterly disappointed a number of punters on this year's Edinburgh Fringe, who went along expecting an experience comparable to the musical trio's now-legendary collaboration Shockheaded Peter. In fact, this is less a full-blown theatrical presentation than a Lillies concert augmented by some bits of puppetry, video and live performance.
Of course, accordionist and falsetto vocalist Martyn Jacques has always had a taste for grand Guignol on stage. Moreover, the antique brutality of the traditional Punch and Judy storyline fits in perfectly with the world of squalor and violence that is par for the course in Jacques' songs, the latest batch boasting titles such as "Lonely Schizophrenic" and "Fountain Filled With Blood". (In a blue-moon-rare occurrence, the Lillies also play a cover version, Shel Silverstein's mordant death-row lament "25 Minutes To Go".) Nevertheless, there's a sense that the band had booked their spot in the Theatre section of the Fringe programme before they'd come up with any detailed ideas about the show, and then found themselves having to shark together an offering that will content aficionados but leave others feeling confused or downright hard-done-by.
The Tiger Lillies are always eager to collaborate with other performers, so they could do a lot worse than revisit their 2003 venue Aurora Nova to hook up with Black Hole Theatre Company, the Australian outfit responsible for Caravan. This is a midnight-black, bizarre puppet presentation of lust, deceit, robbery and murder in and around a sinister carnival. Table-top rod puppets are backed up by shadow play and some live acting by the puppeteers, as we follow the hapless Leo, the stripper and dominatrix Cherry, the sinister Clown, a bent cop and so forth. I say "follow": in fact it isn't that easy to keep tabs on the narrative, but the atmosphere is consistently, compulsively chilling, the more so when you consider that it's principally generated by figures less than a foot high.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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