Tiger Lillies: interview

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Cult cabaret trio Tiger Lillies return to the capital with their new show, ’7 Deadly Sins‘. Time Out meets them to talk puppets and burlesque – and receives an impromptu falsetto singing lesson

  • Tiger Lillies: interview

    Non, no regrets (but I should have gone to Specsavers): the Tiger Lillies under a tree (© Mark Holthusen)

  • Those dark purveyors of perverse Berlin cabaret and creators of the stunning ‘Shockheaded Peter’, the Tiger Lillies, are back with a new album and show, ‘7 Deadly Sins’.

    I head to a suitably dingy club on the outskirts of Hackney, where the show is previewing, to find out what new filth they’ll be spewing forth.
    When I arrive I find lead singer, Martyn Jacques, sitting alone in a leather armchair in a dim corner, strumming away gently on a ukulele, singing quietly to himself in his trademark high-pitched warble.

    ‘Sorry, the others are a little late. My fault, I gave them the wrong time,’ he says with a gentle smile. While we have some time to spare I ask him if he’d mind giving me a quick lesson in falsetto singing as I’ve always been fascinated by his squeaking, squawking castrato-style of vocalisation.

    ‘It’s easy, really,’ he says, as his voice suddenly jumps an octave. ‘Can you speak in a high voice, like this?’
    ‘Yes, I think I can,’ I say in my highest voice, trying not to feel too self-conscious.
    ‘That’s it. It’s just like that, only singing.’

    Right. The two other Tiger Lillies members, Adrian Stout and Adrian Huge, enter just in time to see me strain myself with a few notes. So, what’s the new show about?

    ‘It’s a journey from Heaven to Hell via the seven deadly sins, sort of loosely based on the Hieronymus Bosch triptych “The Last Judgement”,’ Jacques explains. ‘The story is told by gay puppets, Punch and Jude. It has the usual cast list as well, including PC Puff, the baby and, of course, the Devil.’ The puppetry is provided by acclaimed puppeteer Nathan Evans and is the second time that the Tiger Lillies have based a show around these violent little characters.

    ‘We’ve done a Punch and Judy piece before but it was absolutely awful. Badly conceived, badly executed and badly produced, well, hardly produced at all. We just turned up. It was a fucking disaster!’ Jacques laughs at the memory.

    ‘It was a bit like one of those boats you build in your back garden,’ adds double bass player, Stout. ‘You get out to sea and realise you haven’t quite made it right and you start sinking, bailing frantically.’

    ‘This one will be a lot better – we hope,’ giggles Jacques, with some reservation. ‘As you can tell we’re not great at self-promotion.’
    ‘We’re better at picking at our old scabs,’ admits amiable drummer, Huge.
    What came first – the songs or the idea for the show?

    ‘It sort of all came together at the same time. I visualised the whole show in my head as I wrote the music,’ explains Jacques. ‘Though to be honest, this show is nothing like the one I imagined. It’s utterly different, in fact. But the music is the same, we’ve got some good puppets and Ophelia Bitz is doing burlesque dancing. I’m sure it will be fine.’

    If the wonderful depraved music on the ‘7 Deadly Sins’ album is anything to go by it will be a lot better than simply than ‘fine’. As they make their way on to the stage, I’m struck by what lovely people they are. I head for the door and they strike up a song about zoophilia with a bit of child murder thrown in for good measure. Perfect.

    ‘7 Deadly Sins’ is at the Players Theatre from Apr 7-26.

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