The dark cabaret trio take us back to Vienna and the First World War.

By: Sep. 11, 2022
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Review: THE TIGER LILLIES: THE LAST DAYS OF MANKIND, Wilton's Music Hall Dear Franco,

Hello there. Long time fan, first time imaginary contributor. Why are you covering music gigs when you're ostensibly a theatre critic? Last week, it was the Divine Comedy and now the dark cabaret trio The Tiger Lillies. What's going on?


Your Number One Stalker

PS Your front window needs a wash and you could really do with a haircut.

Thank you for writing YNOS. It's true that The Tiger Lillies are, on the face of it, a musical band. And, yes, they are not unique in taking inspiration from literature - other bands like Iron Maiden and Rush have also done this - but even you, dear stalker, would find it difficult to find more fascinating interpreters of classic works both very famous and, as is the case here, almost forgotten.

The Last Days Of Mankind is undeniably one of the strangest plays almost no-one has heard of. Written by Karl Kraus during and about the First World War, most of the play is based on contemporary documents to describe the horrors of that period. Celebrities were called up to push the nation over the brink and the rich ate well thanks to the black market while the poor starved in huge numbers.

When the supply of volunteers ran out, conscription sent many out onto the killing fields as cannon fodder for pompous and witless generals. The end of the play takes a strange turn in its epilogue as Kraus' real-life nemesis Moriz Benedikt appears as the Lord of the Hyenas before the Martians arrive and bomb the Earth.

The play was always going to be impossible to put on as Kraus wrote it with its 500 roles, 200 scenes and instructions which suggested some parts last for over two hours, so to see it revived in any form is a thing of wonder. Step forward The Tiger Lillies.

With varying lineups since being founded in 1989, the band have been pumping out provocative and dark takes on the likes of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Wedekind's Lulu and Coleridge's Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. They are probably best known for 2002's musical Shockheaded Peter which garnered five Olivier nominations and two awards, one for Best Entertainment and one for frontman Martyn Jacques' performance. Scroll forward two decades and they are still prolifically releasing new material. In the last decade alone, they have pumped out 18 albums and performed well-received shows at the Soho Theatre, Southbank Centre and elsewhere.

Kraus' The Last Days Of Mankind fits in well with Jacques' main subject areas: corruption, sex, filth, prostitutes and the depth of humanity's darkest depravities and perversities. With obvious allusions to Brechtian works like The Threepenny Opera, the songs here draw heavily on the source material's topics - albeit with no Martians - and his trademark snarl and falsetto voice are well-deployed whether sat at the piano or grinding away on his accordion.

The music was originally featured in a theatrical production of Last Days of Mankind at Leith Theatre in 2018, co-directed by John Paul McGroarty and Yuri Birte Anderson. In this latest live version, Jacques' fellow multi-instrumentalists Adrian Stout and Budi Butenop know the score - both literally and metaphorically - and add superb substance and depth to this latest caper. The Tiger Lillies have, once again, scored a hit bringing Kraus' dark docudrama to life (albeit with no Martians) and look like they won't be resting on their laurels anytime soon.

The Last Days Of Mankind continues at Wilton's Music Hall until 17 September.

Photo Credit: The Tiger Lillies


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