The godfathers of dark cabaret and the ferocious anti-drag icon unite for the first time.

By: Feb. 28, 2024
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Review: THE TIGER LILLIES AND DAVID HOYLE: LESSONS IN NIHILISM at Wilton's Music Hall Looking at their impressive longevity and sheer depravity, Lessons In Nihilism’s combination of musical trio The Tiger Lillies and drag’s philosopher king David Hoyle is an almost inevitable team up, the only surprise being that it hasn’t happened before.

The godfathers of dark cabaret are now old enough to be its grandfathers but the band behind the Olivier-winning and Grammy-nominated Shockheaded Peter still have a sizable cult following and a demonic demeanour about them. Whether that’s down to their white facepaint, Martyn Jacques’ ghostly falsetto or lyrics about rape, torture and murder that seem wrenched from the very bowels of hell, it is hard to say. 

Joining them is David Hoyle, another figure who has garnered a legion of fans over the decades. Some know them from their “Divine David” era encompassing two Channel 4 shows in which he mercilessly lampooned contemporary culture in between some hilarious Trigger Happy-style sketches. They ended that era in typical fashion with a farewell show held at Streatham Ice Arena called The Divine David on Ice. Since then, they have dropped the “Divine” and instead concentrated on week-long residencies in London and Manchester as well as writing, directing and starring in Uncle David, a film about incest, drugs and suicide.

Two musical shows at Soho Theatre a decade ago - one an enthralling solo outing and the other the twisted Christmas-themed Merrie Hell with Richard Thomas (Jerry Springer: The Opera) - amply demonstrate Hoyle’s ability to vocalise their own personal torments in the name of sparkling anti-entertainment. Here, though, they are chiefly in standup mode taking turns in the spotlight with the Lillies: they roll out a couple of classic numbers and then they follow that up with some references the songs just played (“The Bleached Earth…now that could be about Blackpool”, they say with a nod to their hometown) before it is back to some more live music.

In theory, this should set us up for an epic evening of debauched devilry but, somehow, it doesn’t really gel together. The switching back and forth weakens the effect of both acts, The spellbinding nature of the band is broken every time the lights come up. Meanwhile, Hoyle has to work to reconnect with the audience each time and coming across more as a compere than a comedian at the start of each of their segments.

At times, they come across as far more anti-insult (“you’re all equally beautiful and equally valid” may not be the greatest compliment ever but I’ll take it) than anti-establishment but there’s plenty here from the person who once told me that they “would remove anyone who’s vaguely homophobic to a concentration camp outside the M25”. Their talk of putting politicians into wood chippers is tempered with the note that the MPs would go in “toupee first - I’m a humanitarian after all”. 

The Lillies for their part bring a sepulchral tone to this iconic music hall (“Blamed” and new number ”Disease” are simply exquisite) before closing the night on a storming “Banging In The Nails”. Jacques is still a formidable presence alongside the versatile Adrian Stout and drummer Budi Butenop. They have played at Wilton’s before and the history and size of this vaudeville parlour suits their intimate pitch-black lyrics and mordant melodies down to the ground. Even if this particular team-up hasn't quite come off, one wonders how many of the ghosts haunting this venue will be nodding along from the balcony to this show. 

The Tiger Lillies and David Hoyle: Lessons in Nihilism continues at Wilton's Music Hall until 2 March.