Gate Theatre Summer 2010
There is an irresistible pull to Frank Wedekind's fable of the irresistibly sexual woman, and this new production from Headlong and the Gate captures much of its dark mystery.
Lulu (which may or may not be her name) is a woman defined entirely by her sexual allure, with such an absence of anything else beyond it that those drawn to her project their needs onto her, and are attracted by that reflection rather than by the vacuum behind it.
A doting old man sees her as a pretty toy, a naive artist imagines a fellow virgin, a debauchee sees his own image in her. And, with no identity of her own, Lulu does try to be what the others need from her, inevitably disappointing and destroying them in the process.
Anna Ledwich's adaptation of Wedekind's two Lulu plays intelligently condenses and focuses the action, though an updating to the present (The Countess is a photographer, Lulu bops to an I-pod and there are a few scattered casual obscenities) adds little and may detract from the sense of the sexually repressed society in which the original is set.
And the adaptor,who also directs, cannot fully disguise the fragmented nature of the play, with each episode not really having much to do with the others, and the order in which they come almost arbitrary.
Certainly the awareness that Lulu's path is downhill and heading inexorably toward her own destruction (and the sense that this may have been her unconscious goal from the start) is as unprepared-for as it is in the original.
In any production or adaptation, the play rises or falls with the actress at its centre. In the iconic silent film, Louise Brooks captured Lulu's total blankness and the fact that anything the others saw was their imagination.
Here Sinead Matthews defines the woman by her pure sexuality. Her Lulu is an animal of the senses, perfectly happy to play the roles the others cast her in as long as she gets her sensual pleasure, and instantly uninterested and dismissive once they begin to bore her.
The almost innocent - because unpremeditated - egocentricity of the character is both believable and scary, and it is to the actress's credit that she shows us Lulu's menace while retaining an odd sort of purity.
The rest of the characters exist to come onstage, be smitten by Lulu, be in ecstasy for a while and then die, giving the actors little opportunity to develop them or make much impression.
But special tribute must go to director Ledwich, filling in as Countess Geschwitz after an actress's accident, and giving a fully polished and confident performance.
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Review of Lulu - Gate Theatre 2010