BWW Reviews: THE TIGER LILLIES: RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER, Queen Elizabeth Hall, August 30 2014
It's the visual impact that hits you first. The large, squarish space of the stage framed entirely by a video projection of a virtual curtain that pulls back to reveal ghostly figures on a quayside furtively ducking and diving between barrels readied for loading on to a ship that stands, sails unfurled, in the distance. Beautiful to behold, the scene isn't quite real, but it isn't quite unreal either - this will not be the last time that we are invited to explore the limits of our senses' grip on the world.
Three more figures, with recognisable human weight and movements, dressed in the shabby linens of sailors, faces painted, instruments in hand, resolve themselves in our vision, somewhere in the middle of the scene, neither front nor back. They play music and they sing. And what they sing is the tale of a sailor whose ship finds itself in danger but is guided to safety by an albatross, an albatross that he shoots and is then forced to wear round his neck, as his journey (and therefore ours) becomes as much hallucinatory as real.
Complementing Mark Holthusen's luscious visuals and literally floating out of his ship, his sea, his sky, come the vocals of Martyn Jacques, the celebrated signature falsetto dipping and soaring like the albatross itself. His accordion and piano is supported by Adrian Stout on bass and theremin also bending the musical saw forcing out its eerie wail and Mike Pickering hitting things, usually, but not exclusively, drums. The music contains, but is not contained by, elements of cabaret chanson, buskers' improv, sea shanty, power ballad, rock anthem, gypsy polka and many other musical styles that weave in and out of the 25 songs that comprise the 90 minutes show.
Though an albatross is the key motif of the production, it can only be characterised by comparing to to an elephant - a huge beast, magnificent but dangerous, almost impossible to describe accurately, but once seen, never forgotten. I've seen it twice now and am no closer to pinning it down - just keener than ever to see it again.