Lulu @ Gate Theatre, London

cast list
Sean Campion, Michael Colgan, Paul Copley, Caroline Faber, Jack Gordon, Sinead Matthews with Greer Dale-Foulkes & Tessa Sowery

directed by
Anna Ledwich
Following their recent Salome, better known as a Strauss opera, Headlong (in conjunction with the Gate Theatre) now present Frank Wedekind’s Lulu, more often seen on the opera stage in Alban Berg’s twelve-tone masterwork.

Anna Ledwich not only directs her own sparky adaptation of Wedekind’s two plays but on the press night had to stand in for an indisposed actress.

If there was a forgiveable tentativeness in her attractive portrayal of the smitten Geschwitz, it isn’t reflected in her staging which plunges into the playwright’s grubby world with no hint of inhibition.

As the child-whore, Sinead Matthews begins as a husky-voiced bundle ofsexiness, disturbingly so as she plays the little girl so convincingly. As theextent of Lulu’s life-long abuse is revealed, the evening grows more and moreuncomfortable, her patheticness increases and the grisly end (superbly executed)starts to look like a merciful release.

Ledwich follows a naturalistic route, with only moments of expressionisticfrenzy. Place and time are indeterminate, a turn of the century feel minglingwith bubblewrap and ipod in covert anachronism. The convoluted plot is pareddown for a cast of six, with some doubling for the men.

Performances are strong from Sean Campion, Michael Colgan Paul Copley andJack Gordon as the string of husbands and lovers who lust after the girl, onlyto top themselves in despair. But it’s the women who come out on top, withMatthews’s vulnerable and enticing study of innocence corrupted quitecaptivating.

Designer Helen Goddard provides a splendidly dilapidated studio that peelsaway veils to finally uncover an ingenious inner stage on which the seedy denouement takes place. It’s all got so intense by then that seeing Lulu’s finaldegradation and death at a physical remove is something of a relief.

There’s little let-up in the grimness; most disturbing is Lulu’s father’simplied abuse of her as a child and Schoning’s admission that he’s been pursuingher from the age of seven. Whether you regard Wedekind’s vision as an indictmentof male oppression (“You’ve made me what I am,” Lulu frequently accuses) or amisogynstic assault, this is a powerful and disturbing production.

Wisely, Ledwich does little to counter the ambiguity and enigma of the piece.Don’t go for comfort or escape.

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