views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Lulu: A Monster Tragedy
The London Theatre
20th January 2015


The ensemble

Photography supplied by Pandemonium Performance

Seduction is a dangerous game at the best of times, but in Pandemonium Performance's Lulu: A Monster Tragedy it's a mass murder. Nobody is safe - not even the seductress herself - and there is nowhere to hide. After a successful run of Macbeth at Abney Park Cemetery, the company have moved to the more intimate venue of The London Theatre with this intelligent, dark and somewhat disturbing piece written by Frank Wedekind and adapted by Katy Mulhern, who also takes the lead on stage.

Lulu (Mulhern) is the seductress extraordinaire and with just one look can make men fall at their knees. She is well aware of her talents - after all she's been practising from the age of seven - and she uses them to successfully manipulate the men around her. In the first half of the show we watch Lulu move from man to man, gobbling them up as she goes. She is a perpetual bride and the woman that every man wants and fears. Yet the men themselves are hardly blameless. Each tries to turn Lulu into the object of his desire, dressing her up and even renaming to suit: Lulu, Nelly, Eve, Mignonne - you can hardly expect a woman to be normal in those circumstances.

The first half of the play shifts between dark tragedy and some light-hearted humour. Although death features heavily, director Steve Fitzgerald weaves a jokey, even farcical element into the performers' delivery. There are even a few running gags about the theatre: "Actors are just artists with no ideas of their own!" The second half of the production signals a change in mood and is much grimmer. We watch Lulu's descent into hell, leading up to an unpredictable, dramatic and violent end. This can make for uncomfortable watching at times and yet compelling theatre.

As you might expect, there are some fairly graphic sex scenes and violence in the play and it's targeted at a more mature crowd for good reason (there's an 18 age restriction). While it can feel a little awkward to watch an oral sex scene taking place just a few centimetres from your feet (that's the fringe for you, anything goes), this pales in comparison to the disturbing and violent noises that ring out from behind locked doors. Throughout the performance, much of the worst violence takes place in a side room that the audience can't see. This doesn't make it any less graphic though; if anything, the implied aspect feels more real and distressing. From choking sounds to screams and banging on the door for help, this is certainly dark stuff.

With just a simple sofa, picture frame and a few props, the set is very basic. However, the cast make good use of the space and successfully turn the whole room into the various houses that Lulu inhabits. Visitors come and go through the main door to the theatre and hide - or are dragged - into the little unseen room on the right (backstage in reality). The lighting is also used effectively, adding to the mood in the room and enabling the team to move the props around (almost) undetected in the darkness between scenes.

Of course, we can't rave about a production without mentioning its protagonist and Mulhern deserves a standing ovation for playing Lulu. With a markedly better delivery than the rest of the cast (Luke Willats, Matthew McFetridge and Porl Matthews), she fantastically portrays the different sides to Lulu's character from the compulsive liar to the desperate and naïve girl. With an impressive range of facial expressions and subtle movements, and the sheer confidence to wear such daring outfits, she is easily the standout star of the play.

Despite what they say in Lulu's world, actors clearly do have ideas of their own! Mulhern definitely does, and her adaptation makes for a thoroughly unsettlingly, but creative and gripping tale.

Lulu: A Monster Tragedy opened on 13th January and runs until 25th January 2015 at The London Theatre.

Nearest tube station: New Cross (Overground)

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