Review - Lulu

By Frank Wedekind

Adapted and directed by Anna Ledwich

Gate Theatre until 10 July 2010

In Anna Ledwich’s brilliant reworking of Frank Wedekind’s 1894 play (originally split into two halves to avert censorship), Lulu is no femme fatale. She is an abused child, sexually exploited since the age of seven, who has learned to use her eroticism, sometimes clumsily, for her own ends.

Men are attracted to Lulu like bees to a honey pot but, somehow, they all end up destroyed by their passion for this child-woman or through their own insatiable lusts.

Lulu is defined by her relations to the men around her. They each call her different names and in this way lay claim to her. She is infantilised by her first husband, Dr Goll; serves as erotic muse for the artist Schwartz; is groomed by the older, controlling Schoning; and becomes sugar-mummy to his gambling son Alwa. As she says to Schoning, the man who has most moulded her: “I am what you made me, darling.”

Helen Goddard’s cluttered set is transformed from artist’s garret into peep show. At various times it feels like the stage of a Burlesque cabaret. What is clear is that Lulu is on display for the pleasure of these men and one woman, Countess Geschwitz. A giant blank canvas stretches across half the stage, suggesting that Lulu is a blank page – given colour and meaning by all those who try to possess her.

This Gate-Headlong creative collaboration is rewarded by some terrific performances. Sinead Matthews is wonderful as Lulu capturing the various nuances of her slippery character. She is a sexual tease with a virginal quality; both victim and abuser. Sean Campion is also superb as the coolly manipulative Schoning and his interpretation is in good contrast to Paul Copley, who plays Lulu’s father as a seedier, shadier monster.  On press night, Caroline Faber was injured, so the part of the Countess, perhaps the one character genuinely in love with Lulu, was seamlessly adopted by Ledwich herself.

Although this is predominantly a play about our darker instincts, there is unexpected humour to be found in the rantings of Michael Colgan’s neurotic artist and the adolescent proclivities of Jack Gordon’s gambler and in the moments when Lulu gets the better of her exploiters. Ultimately, though, what will stay with me is the savagery and tragedy of the play’s spine-tingling final moments.

Originally published in Theatreworld