Corrido de la Sangre

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The Tiger Lillies

Director Mark Holthusen

Writer Pedar Bjurman

Music and Lyrics Martyn Jacques

The Tiger Lillies have been delighting and possibly revolting audiences for nearly 30 years. This “anarchic Brechtian street opera trio” are Grammy nominated, world class purveyors of unapologetically deviant and defiant shows. Commissioned by HOME, Manchester, Corrido de la Sangre is a vivid, glorious celebration of the rip roaring circus that is the Mexican Day of the Dead. Ruthless and gruesome no one escapes unscathed as this dark and gleeful trio play their twisted tunes.

Three musicians on a stage within a stage, pasted in garish make up and suitably clad to evoke their long dead characters, this corrido band rises from hell to play again and tell the ghastly tale of their demise. From the opening number it is clear that this is no grotesque parody but is a high calibre, darkly anarchic cabaret.

The band are skilled musicians playing a range of instruments from piano and ukulele – Martyn Jacques to upright bass and musical saw – Adrian Stout and Jonas Galland on a range of drums. Martyn Jacques sings with a laconic and dispassionate falsetto that can be pure and sweet or acid sharp and vitriolic. At times it feels like Dave Vanien from The Damned has met Noel Coward in the catacombs and formed some unholy musical alliance with a mariachi band.

The lyrics of each song drive the narrative along with vivid imagery that is not for the mawkish or easily offended. Orphan is sweetly plaintive and poignant, La Bruja mournful and haunting while Scarface is a shocking and visceral description of the ghastly disfiguring of a young women. I bought the soundtrack and I’m still humming along to the bizarrely upbeat Good Doctor and the haunting Borderland.

Visually it is gorgeous. The staging is intimate, and the combination of projections, shadow puppetry and papercut artwork create a constant feeling of wonderment as reveal after reveal alters the staging like a kaleidoscope and creates a sense of the performance being peeled back through the years like Russian dolls unfolding in size. The backdrop gives a sense of the decaying splendour of old Mexico and the ragged holes suggest the disintegration of cloth like flesh from a corpse. The projection of colours and shapes from fiesta lace and flowers to the gold of icons weeping blood to Mexican skies and flames of hell is visually stunning. It evokes the magical realism of Frida Kahlo but with the scale of Diego Rivera folk art murals. Director Mark Holthusen has created a beautiful visual spectacle that pulsates like a vast beautiful beating heart.

As the good doctor says – Once you are in, you can never get out. Leaving the performance at HOME last night I was tempted to ask for a lock in and for the deadly trio to rise again and sing another corrido.

At HOME 20th April – 5th May

Viva

The Tiger Lillies

Images by Jonathon Keenan

Brief Encounter

THE LOWRY

Adapted and directed by Emma Rice

A Kneehigh production

Ten years on from its first hugely successful staging and Emma Rice and Kneehigh have revived Brief Encounter. This musical adaptation blends the 1936 Noel Coward play Still Life and the iconic 1945 film Brief Encounter. If the originals depict ordinariness and repressed passion played “with a deliberate colourlessness”, then Rice wilfully and mischieviously paints a canvas around the lovers that is warm, vivid and earthily sensual.

The production draws you in from the start with a band (clad in old fashioned cinema ushers costumes) playing in the foyer, to striking up in the aisles and chatting randomly to audience members. Suddenly a couple in the front row burst into argument and the elegant woman flees her seat, only to rush unto the stage and through the projected screen where she becomes part of the black and white film. This is a celebratory affair and Rice has a very large bag of tricks and surprises at her disposal.

There is some great use of Noel Coward songs such as Go slow, Johnny with Jos Slovick on mandolin during the boat scene and Beverly Rudd giving her winsome version of Mad About The Boy. The music numbers feel very natural with the songs never seeming as if shoehorned into the production as in many musicals. Various background scenes tend to unfold during the songs on stage, or they are performed in front of the plush red velvet curtain almost like Vaudeville numbers.

The blend of live theatre and film is exhilarating as it is done so well. Scenes of crashing waves on screen allude to repressed passion on stage. Trains arrive and depart in spectacular ways particularly in the scene when Laura contemplates suicide. From railway station buffet menus to champagne bubbles to pressure gauges to mishaps on boating lakes, every tiny nuance is there. The use of lighting is key to mood throughout the piece from the sombre but comforting light of the standard lamp in the living room to the glorious boat house scene. This is a triumph which feels like an old black and white film has been lovingly and pain stakingly hand painted in rich Technicolor. It is no surprise that the design team involved have won so many awards for their previous work on this production.

Jim Sturgeon and Isabel Pollen embody the doomed lovers Alex and Laura with all the restraint and earnestness of the original film. The scene where they hover onto real sensuality at the boat house is the most poignant. Other moments seem too contrived and work less well such as when they literally swing from the chandeliers.

The rest of the cast are the real life blood of this production as they get to be fully fleshed out and larger than life characters. The other lovers are of course not hindered by pleasant spouses in the background and are free to express their love. Lucy Thackeray as would-be posh Myrtle Bagot and Dean Nolan as the lusty Albert are well matched as the older lovers and great to watch. Nolan also gives a lovely depth and sweetness in his other role as Laura’s husband. Beverley Rudd is a riot as the earthy and sweetly saucy young Beryl falling in love with Stanley, her devoted young suitor Jos Slovick. These characters all bring a hefty dose of bawdy humour and slapstick which is mainly infectious and joyful. There are times where the sharp contrast against the scenes with Laura and Alec can seem jarring and risk marring the emotional impact of the final scenes.

A real theatrical delight, although it sometimes feels like every item in the kitchen cupboard has been added to this 70 year old recipe, the result is a winner. Leaving the theatre you want to laugh and skip and…….remember every minute. Always.

At The Lowry until Saturday w4th Feb.

At The Old Vic 2nd March- 2nd September 2018

Images by Simon Turtle