Arts: Cabaret: More filthy songs for dirty minds

THE TIGER LILLIES ALMEIDA THEATRE LONDON

PERSONS OF a nervous disposition, as the BBC calls us, are not the ideal audience for The Tiger Lillies. Indeed, they may not want to read this review. In the music by the trio responsible for the critically acclaimed musical Shockheaded Peter one can hear echoes of Berlin-period Weill, Bob Dylan, country and western, and the songs of Romanian peasants and whales.

Much of it sounds like waiting for the other shoe to drop. The lyrics, however, are reminiscent mainly of horror comics and what we call special- interest magazines.

Martin Jacques, who could pass for a sour-faced Irish publican were it not for the waist-length pigtail and the falsetto voice, manipulates his concertina to imitate the car crash of which he sings: "Shards of glass have pierced your arteries and skin." The words of a csrds are hard to understand but, with repetition, they can be heard as "Your dribble! Your dribble! Your dribble down your chin!"

Adrian Stout plays bass with a dreamy expression; Adrian Hughes, twinkly and benign, assists on drums festooned with rubber chickens. The birds, along with a row of anxious-looking stuffed animals and large plastic insects, are used by the group to illustrate some of their numbers, such as one that goes: "I want to have sex with flies/ When I try, I'm too big/ I stick it in, and they don't live." Sometimes Jacques' partners chorus the last words of a line, as in "I love a little hamster up my anus".

With such openers you may wonder where these songs can go, but none of them has any travel plans. The idea is simply stated, then repeated, often in the same words. One, however, does have an exciting, if unsurprising, narrative. It dolefully begins, "They're painting the gallows outside my cell" and follows a condemned man through his last 20 minutes on earth, ending with a rattle and a protruding tongue. Could be very popular at Hallowe'en.

After a while, the material became less surprising, if still shocking, but sensitive listeners would undoubtedly be disturbed by the rhymes - the would-be suicide who "thought it might be a laugh/ but the oven wasn't gas". "Laugh" is also used to rhyme with "arse" a lot. It squeaks in protest.

One number was not worrying in the least: Jacques sang "Autumn Leaves" in a conventional enough way, though rather flat and as if "autumn" were two words. That was our only opportunity for relaxation, even if one looked away from the stage. The north London audience - some in black leather and large chunks of face metal, some in Alice bands - were extremely enthusiastic, bobbing their heads and pounding their fists to the rhythm of "Bangin' in the Nails" (as in the Cross). They also loudly approved of a plaintiff ode to the singer's true love, a sheep named Wellington. As another Wellington said, with different emphasis, they frightened me.

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