Lulu at the London Coliseum
The English National Opera makes accessible, beautiful performances normally reserved for the upper classes, and Lulu is one of the best.
With motifs of identity, possession and psychopathy, the production follows the tragedy of a seemingly vacuous woman at the height of her beauty, and her inevitable and grotesque fall. Sensitive design builds and questions the idea of female identity, utilising projection, illustration and costume to infer that “the male gaze” is what leads to Lulu’s downfall, not simply an “error of character”, which is particularly relevant in our era of gender politics.
Raked stages and monolithic flats add to the sense of discord and frailty, an effect heightened through director William Kentridge’s illustrations. Skilfully projected and animated in layers over the set to add movement and depth, the drawings are reminiscent of Rorsarch’s ink blot tests, weaving in themes of mental vulnerability and anchoring the characters in a vast stage. This use of ink and paper is particularly intriguing, and is continued within the props and costumes, alluding to the fragility of each person and their story, their moral shades of grey, and Lulu’s shattered identity.
What starts off as a slow exploration of character, quickly builds in layers as Brenda Rae’s irresistibly hedonistic Lulu interacts with a stellar cast. Clare Presland as the deliciously awkward schoolboy provides much-needed comic relief, and the reappearance of cast members in different roles adds an exciting and dramatic irony, most particularly with James Morris’s rich bass baritone as both husband and murderer.
The music is, of course, phenomenal, washing over spectators in wave after wave. However, three hours does reduce the show’s impact somewhat. In the more conversational moments one’s gaze starts to wander around the set, and then the auditorium. Experiencing opera is as much about the event itself as it is the performance, so these moments of distraction are fairly rewarding. Two twenty-minute intervals also allow plenty of time to refresh oneself, and the second and third acts move at a much faster pace.
As would be expected with anything shown at the English National Opera, Lulu is a stunning evening of art and music. The production has a thoroughly modern feel, due in part to the minimalistic set and gorgeous projections. Don’t be intimidated by it’s reputation or length though, this is a rich experience that will convert most sceptics.
Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Lulu is at the London Coliseum from 9th until 19th November 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch a video with Lulu director William Kentridge here: