My first experiences of The Tiger Lillies is with this lengthily titled piece of dark cabaret – The Tiger Lillies’ Christmas Carol – A Victorian Gutter plays at the Southbank Centre now
“You’re only in the present and that’s where you’ll always be”
It’s probably worth reading what the blurb says, “a concert inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol”. I wouldn’t go to The Tiger Lillies’ Christmas Carol – A Victorian Gutter expecting to see a faithful rendering of the classic festive tale, rather it is a hauntingly inventive song cycle that glances occasionally off the world of Scrooge, Marley and untrammelled tuberculosis.
The Tiger Lillies are Martyn Jacques, Adrian Stout and Budi Butenop, Grammy-nominated post-punk pioneers who espouse a Gothic darkness that combines pre-war Berlin cabaret, anarchic opera and gypsy music. And here, they delve into the destitution and dankness of Victorian London, singing songs of poverty and prostitution, death and disease, less a merry Christmas than a macabre one.
But it is highly entertaining with it, this twisted music hall approach. Musically, the hall is full of eerie sounds – saws and theramins deployed to great effect – and the songs, written by Jacques, feel moulded around them, as much atmospheric musicianship as lyrical content pushing the storytelling along. More variety comes from the intermittent but efficient use of grand piano and ukulele.
And there’s something really interesting in the way Scrooge’s psyche is mined in a different way here, interrogating the effects of his particular social milieu as well as the people ‘beneath’ him. Contemporary resonances are lightly laid, rather than hammered home and the final message feels as apposite as it ever has. If you’re only going to see one Christmas show this year (as I have done!), you can’t go far wrong than the Tiger Lillies.