Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

The Tiger Lillies: Corrido de la Sangre (¡Viva! Festival)

Mark Holthusen and Peder Bjurman with songs by Martyn Jacques
HOME, Manchester
20 April 2018 to 05 May 2018

There are artists (like Captain Beefheart or Diamanda Galás) who have voices that, while not conventional, suit their material. To this list we can add Martyn Jacques, frontman for The Tiger Lillies and composer of their songs. Jacques has a falsetto that is pure but somehow sounds forced as if maintaining the register for so long is painful; you can’t help but worry he might be damaging his larynx with such powerful vocals.

Like Jacques’s vocals The Tiger Lillies are hard to categorise. Corrido de la Sangre, their latest production has elements, such as a storyline and sets (of a sort) that conform to a theatrical show but the story is told entirely in song without physical action. The presentation – simply the group singing and playing as if at a gig - feels more like cabaret. The band is a three-piece – accordion, bass guitar and percussion - and their style of playing nudges towards that of the carnival hawker drawing a crowd with larger than life tales of dark deeds while they remain mournfully straight-faced (or tonight skull-faced as they are wearing highly effective make-up).

Corrido-de-la-Sangre is presented as part of HOME’s Viva Festival and author Peder Bjurman has taken inspiration from Mexico. This is a country known for problems with borders and in Corrido de la Sangre the rigid distinctions between life and death and mundane activities and the supernatural become fluid. The group tell of an orphan, abandoned by his parents and left with only an accordion with which to earn a meagre living. He becomes obsessed with Maria, the mistress of local Godfather Don Hector, and their forbidden passion has fatal consequences. Typical of The Tiger Lillies the story begins at the end with the group dead and returning to haunt their murderer while Maria makes a run for the border.

The Tiger Lillies are infamous for the dark nature of their material but, compared to some of their past work, the shock/horror elements of Corrido de la Sangre are kept to a minimum. Director Mark Holthusen, who co-created the show, uses the Mexican theme to full dramatic effect. Video projections bring to life scenes described in the song lyrics but, true to the Mexican approach, the scenes feature actual and shadow puppets, rather than actors.

The video projections, designed by Holthusen, have a three-dimensional aspect. Rather than simply pop onto the screen the projections develop gradually as if they have a real weight and are being constructed. Of course, in view of the nature of the material there are also the occasional bursts of horror with demons, animate skeletons and splatters of blood. But the most striking aspect of the projections is the way they set a ravishing Gothic background against which the group can perform – ornate chambers with grotesque statues, acres of candles or bright flowers.

You could not say that Corrido de la Sangre is a morally uplifting piece of work but the disquieting humour and unsettling storyline makes the show hard to resist even if you cannot be sure of its exact nature.

Reviewer: David Cunningham


Comment by David Chadderton

David assesses this perfectly. Some of the Lillies' theatre shows are just concerts with a bit of a theme—not that there's anything wrong with that—but this one, while the storyline doesn't have a tightly constructed plot, is a feast for the eyes as well as the ears in an impressive marriage of visuals with the music and the script.

And where else could you hear beautiful music about death, violence and drugs played on saw, theremin and a home-made ukulele plus an extended solo on a Jew's harp?