Wedekind's 1892-94 seven-hour "Monster Tragedy" has now been reassembled, and Edward Bond and Elisabeth Bond-Pablé adapt and prune it down to three hours for Cambridge Theatre Company's production. Director Nick Philippou (like Sam Mendes, when directing non-musicals) burrows into the text for characters' motivations and quirks, and sometimes doesn't trust the lines to do their own work. But following the amoral Lulu through marriages and affairs in Berlin and Paris to her final murder in a London garret by Jack the Ripper, there's no feeling that either Philippou's direction nor the Bonds' adaptation betrays Wedekind's vision. The corruptions of class and money are unremittingly fingered, and Susan Lynch's Lulu enacts the confusion between her long-cankered desires for stability and contentment and the sensualist calculation with which (for instance) she poutingly devours asparagus in a grimly farcical dinner before a host of assorted voyeurs.
Power doesn't amount to fluidity – the play is a monolith, not a torrent. Character after character is deliberately placed beyond the pale of sympathy, with the sole exception of the lovestruck Countess, despairing of her self-sacrifice even as she persists in it. But the absence of the angel/whore charismatic duality in Lulu – the basis of her status as icon – is (the director and adapters argue) correcting what was only ever a simplification, a dilution on Wedekind's part of his original. Not pleasant, but potent.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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