After a hiatus of a year from reviewing (thanks to a global pandemic and keeping a pretty rambunctious toddler alive) I was very excited to get some time with an old friend watching a proper grown-up show, with swear words and everything. Unfortunately, Coronavirus had other ideas and my poor friend tested positive on his LFT just hours before we were due to meet at the Southbank Centre to watch this show. I was feeling a bit trepidatious heading to the theatre alone, but I shouldn’t have worried.
The Tiger Lillies have a loyal following and the theatre was relatively full (despite the fact that many people are abandoning pre-Christmas plans to ensure they are Covid free on the big day) demonstrating the strength of their fandom. There was a friendly and lively atmosphere amongst the audience all night.
The Tiger Lillies are a three-man performance group of incredibly talented musicians who write their own rather dark musical scores for their shows and play an incredible range of instruments between them. In this show there was everything from a grand piano to a ukulele, a theremin and a saw (think DIY) played with a bow.
This performance was their own interpretation of Dickens’ Christmas morality tale A Christmas Carol, told almost entirely via a song cycle interspersed with a few lines of narration. The music was excellent throughout, a cross somewhere between ska and vaudeville, and some of the songs were really funny. However, the lyrics were occasionally vague and lost the nuance of the story. If you didn’t know the tale of A Christmas Carol already, I think you might have struggled to understand what was happening at times.
Martyn Jacques played the narrator, Adrian Stout played Scrooge and Budi Butenop was Tiny Tim (briefly, in between playing the drums), while a host of flying puppets represented the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. The acting was tongue-in-cheek, bringing some humour to the bleakness of Dickens’ Victorian London, but still highlighting the desperation, of the circumstances of many ordinary people living in ‘poverttttteeee’ (there were a lot songs about poverty!)
The stage was dark and atmospheric, lit with flickering candles and scattered with Victoriana and musical instruments. A huge arch framed everything like a vast fireplace, with Jacob Marley’s head in the middle.
The costumes were Victorian, in black and white, and Jacques appeared almost skull-like with blackened eye sockets and white skin. The best costume was undoubtedly Tiny Tim’s weeny outfit, donned by Butentop to teeter onto the stage with his crutches and melt Scrooge’s cold heart.
If Boris doesn’t cancel Crimbo this year I would really recommend this play for a fun night out with friends. You’ll definitely have a few giggles and it will get you in the Christmas spirit (excuse the pun).
Written by: Martyn Jacques
The Tiger Lillies play at Southbank Centre until 30 December 2021. Further information and bookings via the below link.