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The Tiger Lillies Review – Devil’s Fairground at Wilton’s Music Hall

THE TIGER LILLIES: Devil’s Fairground
The Tiger Lillies: Devil’s Fairground

The Tiger Lillies have been doing the rounds for a while now, but for one reason or another, I’ve yet to come across them until now. This latest show may well be called Devil’s Fairground, but even so, a fair amount of religious terminology finds its way into the lyrics.

At one point, a prayer is said to the angels, presumably the ones in Heaven; towards the end of the show, singer-songwriter Martyn Jacques declares, “They’re going to tear you limb from limb / Because of your so-called sin / You’re going to Hell / Yes, you’re going to Hell!” I understand Jacques was on a theology and philosophy course in his youth. He did not graduate, apparently, but whatever he picked up on the said course still influences his band’s live experience today. It all seemed particularly apt at the performance I attended, on the same day as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding, which was, in effect, a televised church service.

The no-holds-barred approach is accompanied by exquisite timing from Jacques and his fellow band members, Jonas Golland on the drum kit (and other percussion instruments) and Adrian Stout on bass and other interesting equipment – though quite why he uses a musical saw and a theremin (separately) when the resulting ethereal sound is more or less the same, rather stumped me. But anyway, there really ought to be more bands like The Tiger Lillies, who come on stage at a reasonable time, perform their music in a thoroughly engaging manner, announce there will now be an interval, return after the interval and perform the second half. There were no anecdotes to endure, and where there was some banter, this was incorporated quite seamlessly into the music.

Too much talking takes up too much time in too many other gigs and concerts – here, The Tiger Lillies have enough confidence in their music to let it speak for itself, without the need to pad out their show with reminisces and spoken word. The audience have paid to hear the band play, and that is precisely what The Tiger Lillies do, and pretty much nothing else, from beginning to end.

Judging by audience reactions around me, they have built up something of a cult following, and the totality of their repertoire is remarkably vast, both in terms of music styles and number of songs from which to choose from – a call for ‘any requests’ resulted in at least two dozen separate responses.

If there is pleasure to be gained in making champions of political correctness squirm, The Tiger Lillies do it with a certain charm and panache that some may find all the more repellent. But the idiosyncratic nature of the performances and the lyrics, always filled with Jacques’ glorious falsetto, combine with excellent audience rapport to produce something compelling, something almost hypnotic, something irresistibly fascinating. I personally couldn’t find anything offensive in the slightest – I quite agreed, for example, about a song warning about the dangers of drug use.

Elsewhere, they declare that “our music is dirty, our music is queer” – and, frankly, they’re right. This production is definitely unique, with each song containing a narrative full of one emotion or the other: by the end of this entrancing experience, the audience had been exposed to the heights of joy and the depths of sorrow. Stripped of the visuals that permeate some of the band’s other productions, the magic and the mystery of The Tiger Lillies is brilliantly captured in this show, allowing the music and lyrics to shine, and shine radiantly.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Take a trip into the Devil’s Fairground where temptation and sin await as the Grammy-nominated godfathers of alternative cabaret perform from their new album.

One of the most provocative and genre-defying bands you could come across, the world of The Tiger Lillies is dark, peculiar and varied, with moments of deep sadness, cruel black humour and immense beauty. Mixing pre-war Berlin cabaret with anarchic opera and gypsy music, their songs echo the voices of Bertolt Brecht and Jacques Brel.

Performing all over the world the band has collaborated with circus performers and Shakespearean actors; experimental dancers and avant-garde photographers; burlesque puppeteers and classical music ensembles, winning an Olivier Award for their West End musical Shockheaded Peter along the way.

Age recommendation 14+ (contains strong language)
Running time: 110 minutes, including a 20 minute interval

Wilton’s Music Hall, London
8pm from 15th – 26th May 2018


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