Rime of the Ancient Mariner by The Tiger Lillies
St James Theatre, until March 9
Fourteen years ago The Tiger Lillies came to Wellington and conquered us with their darkly humorous and superbly presented and performed Shockheaded Peter.
They have returned for only two performances with their take on Coleridge's most famous poem. The missing definite article in the title of the show should give a clue that only a few lines of the poem are spoken.
With the exception of the wedding guest, and indeed the wedding itself, the outline and the themes of the poem are still retained but what we end up with is a collection of about 20 murky, doleful cabaret-style songs, lacking even a hint of the black humour that performers Martyn Jacques, Adrian Stout and Mike Pickering are famous for.
Far too many of the songs sound the same and the end result is monotonous ("A weary time!"), and the usual over- amplification we have to endure these days makes a great many of the lyrics unintelligible.
All this means that the speedy narrative drive of the poem crawls to a halt ("as idle as a painted ship") and some of the interpolations, such as the rape of the cabin boy, King Neptune, a romantic tale of a sailor and a mermaid, and the dead albatross placed on the mariner's head rather than around his neck, seem gratuitous.
What saves the day to some extent are the astounding video animations by Mark Holthusen.
The band performs centre stage between two gauze curtains onto which are projected the ship, the hologram-like crew, "ice, mast-high", the albatross, Neptune, waves, strange sea monsters "blue, glossy green, and velvet black", and a fiery hell for the grand finale.
As with Shockheaded Peter there's a touch of the scenic effects that remind one of cut-out scenery of children's toy theatres which aped the "realistic" scenery designed for the melodramas presented on the Victorian stage.
It is at times beautiful, sometimes ugly but it is always arresting as the band plays on . . . and on.
It is clear that more than just technology for all its marvels is needed to make a large-scale multi-media performance.
- The Dominion Post