Sean Campion, Michael Colgan, Paul Copley, Caroline Faber, Jack Gordon, Sinead Matthews, Greer Dale-Foulkes, Tessa Sowery
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 forgivable 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 of sexiness, disturbingly so as she plays the little girl so convincingly. As the extent of Lulu’s life-long abuse is revealed, the evening grows more and more uncomfortable, 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 expressionistic frenzy. Place and time are indeterminate, a turn of the century feel mingling with bubblewrap and ipod in covert anachronism. The convoluted plot is pared down 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, only to top themselves in despair. But it’s the women who come out on top, withMatthews’s vulnerable and enticing study of innocence corrupted quite captivating.
Designer Helen Goddard provides a splendidly dilapidated studio that peels away 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 finalde gradation 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’s implied abuse of her as a child and Schoning’s admission that he’s been pursuing her from the age of seven. Whether you regard Wedekind’s vision as an indictment of male oppression (“You’ve made me what I am,” Lulu frequently accuses) or a misogynstic 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.