Shockheaded Peter Review 2001
Written: adapted from Heinrich Hoffmann's 'Struwwelpeter', and has music & Lyrics by Martyn Jacques. Created by Julian Bleach, Anthony Cairns, Graeme Gilmour, Tamzin Griffin and Jo Pocock.
Director: Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott
Starring: Julian Bleach, Anthony Cairns, Ewan Hunter, Tamzin Griffin and Rebekah Wild , The Tiger Lillies.
Story: The show has been described as a junk opera with live animation and big hair!
Having recently been introduced to Heinrich Hoffman's grizzly tales (for children) of the Struwwelpeter in German and loving their wicked humour I thought Shockheaded Peter would be worth a look and indeed it was!
I can't imagine that it would be to everyone's taste - I know some people thought the show seemed amateurish, pantomimic and nonsense - and indeed it is very pantomimic - but to call it amateurish nonsense I think is a little unfair. The performances are very stylised and strongly charicatured making them seem pantomimic, but their purpose is to underline the strong human faults in a way which would be clear to children (to whom Hoffman aimed his tales). In fact on a kill-joy note these stories could be taken very seriously and indeed some of the messagages (laughed at by the audience) are very relevant in today's society. However, it would take a real kill-joy to not enjoy the wonderful humour and sheer delight this show offers.
Marketed as a "junk opera" Shockheaded Peter's music is provided by The Tiger Lillies, a band of three with an accordionist/falsetto singer (you have been warned), a double bass player and a drummer who tell the stories through song and music and are often accompanied by action from the actors.
Once you have got used to Martyn Jacques' high pitched squawk (which sometimes loses the words) you should love the wittiness of the lyrics and music which narrates the show (without imposing heavily on it).
The performers play brilliantly - doubling as animals, puppeteers, props and even humans! There is a side-splittingly funny performance from Ewan Hunter as he introduces the evening and continues to vaguely narrate throughout.
But what makes Shockheaded Peter so brilliant is its simple ingenuity. The audience are transported into a pop-up world where floor boards lift to reveal surprises, props and scenery are 2D painted card - even flames are 2D pieces of card which emerge from the floor. It is this sparingness fused with creativity which makes every enactment of a story so delightful (of course not forgetting the effective performances of the 5 strong ensemble plus musicians).
In Shockheaded Peter, the performers use simple theatrical effects to get a reaction from the audience - but this playing around with the oh-so-simple makes the audience "oooh" and "ahhh" with joy. This is a most delightful, enjoyable and creative show and anyone who thinks the West End has gone a bit stale should go and see it. If you don't think the West End is stale then see it anyway and be amazed!
A round up of the press notices by Darren Dalglish
The show has received great notices from the popular press.... Gerald Berkowitz for THE STAGE says, “A fiendishly funny low-tech, high camp celebration of the bizarre, presented with insane inventiveness and ghoulish glee.” JOHN PETER for THE SUNDAY TIMES says the show “manages to delight and terrify in equal measure” and goes on to describe the show as “irresistible”. NICHOLAS de JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD also liked it saying, “This clever 90-minute freak show…..not only inspires uncomfortable laughter, it is radiant with theatrical invention.” ALASTAIR MACAULAY for the FINANCIAL TIMES says, “How exhilarating - how rare - to see a post-1960 musical show worth seeing for musical reasons! Yet you could be tone-deaf and still find Shockheaded Peter a knock-out theatrical experience.” CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, “The production is brilliantly imaginative.” He goes on to say,” Shockheaded Peter is already a cult classic. It deserves to become a huge popular hit.” JONATHAN MYERSON for THE INDEPENDENT says, “You'd be a fool to miss this show.” He goes on to describe it as a “staggeringly wonderful show”.