Lulu – An Enigmatic, Endearing and Enduring Portrayal 4*

Lulu - Sinead Matthews, images courtesy C Ashmore

Director Anna Ledwich revives Frank Wedekind’s (1864-1918) ‘debauched’ play delivering a many layered tale of desire, death and self-awareness.  The indistinct era of this staging accentuates the erotic forthrightness of a script that broke so dramatically with the moral attitude of its time and Sinead Matthew embodies a Lulu who is more damaged-goods than maverick. A femme fatale obscured by her own reflection, masked by a childlike demeanour, recoiling from womanhood and responsibility. This Lulu is a temptress devoid of self knowledge who manipulates and is victimized in equal measure by the men in her life.

The modest set offers little clarity or detail – does a roped chair indicate bondage, could a plastic sheet halt a raging man? – echoing the lack of self-awareness in the central character. That Lulu is little more than a manifestation of her lovers’ desire is aptly underscored by her consecutive renaming: Lulu, Lolly, Katya, Eve, Mignon. Musical numbers are movingly delivered by both Michael Colgan – as the hauntingly puritanical and tormented Schwartz – and Matthew further blurring any sense of period.

Lulu’s yearning to be the object of desire, her longing to have men drawn to her conflicts with her distain for physical contact. Matthew, comfortable with her own nudity, neatly portrays coquettish need alongside the subtle rejection of physicality. A shadow of jealousy crosses her face as Dr Goll – played by Paul Copely assured in both this and the debilitatingly abusive father role – her first husband, is tempted away openly betraying her fragility.  Even the subsequent deaths have an element of abandonment. The plaint of “you made me what I am” is repeated throughout and Ledwich (in the role of Countess Geschwitz on opening night) highlights the cyclical nature of abuse and blame through Lulu’s successive husbands enacting dual roles – and as each of the reincarnated actors returns their new character is more lethal than ever.

Tones of tragedy and melodrama are offset by comedic moments none more successfully delivered than those by Sean Champion as the seemingly unflappable Schoning.  Campion is magnificently enigmatic and compelling in the powerful role of puppet master, object of desire, father-figure, junky and mad-man.  He carries the weight and significance of his Machiavellian role easily.  Magnanimously and devilishly he delivers comedic and cruel dialogue whether the importance of appearing as “Nelson’s Column or something equally erect” or an attempt to engender reconciliation “No one would guess that she was a slut”.

The clichés of Lulu’s downward spiral disappoint and the final shift from enigmatic characters of great urgency and unpredictability to melodramatic truism concludes an otherwise fine production.  Ledwich has produced a complex and hazy portrait of Lulu beautifully reflecting the theatre’s most inscrutable and enduring temptress.

Gate Theatre
11 Pembridge Rd,
London, UK, W11 3HQ
0207 229 9040

Until July 10th 2010

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