The Tiger Lillies’s One Penny Opera is a deliciously filth-ridden cabaret of the macabre. Victorian London is rife with banditry and betrayal, as this punk folk trio of zoot-suited gutter clowns riots through a set list of original songs and covers twisted to their nefarious purpose.
The moon is high over Soho. Our frontman and host, a sunken-eyed Pierrot hollers in a shrill falsetto about piss (his favourite word) and perversion (a prevailing theme). There’s revelry in Old London Town, in the shit-flinging and corruption of the city, after the tradition of the Beggar’s Opera and pre-war Berlin cabaret. In other words, this is a morality tale without morals and everybody is getting their hands dirty.
The bass is played by the King of the Beggars. His daughter Polly has been asked for her hand in marriage by Mac the Knife. The constabulary’s in cahoots with the killer. Jenny Diver, jilted sex worker, is furious. Will the marriage go ahead? The gig’s a love story of sorts, but not really. As the bass walks us down a dark alley, woozy with a tight groove, deep in the pocket, the circus troupe's vacant smiles suggest we might want to watch our back.
Like Macky's switchblade, the music is sharp and knows the business end of its satire. The lyrics are playful and smutty as Limerick. Most of the words wouldn’t look out of place scrawled on a used bog roll (a compliment, if you'd believe it). They tease at irresponsibility and invite us to cross our arms in puritanical rebuke. It doesn’t really matter that the show only has two gears: 1) rambunctious, spit-in-your-eye punk or 2) slow, histrionic spit-in-your-eye punk. Or that the show recycles genre tropes like a bawdy game of nineteenth-century buzzword bingo or a cheap second-hand watch. When the ballads come around it’s the ghostly sound of the saw you'll remember (it's played with a bow like a cello) as melodrama takes centre stage.
A sick rendition of ‘Drunken Sailor’ perks up the audience before the gallows humour culminates in folk favourite Johnny Cash’s ‘Twenty-Five Minutes’ (what else?). The encore, a shouty song about heroin and cocaine called 'Heroin and Cocaine', has the whole audience clapping along. Everyone’s having good time singing about corruption. The groove’s infectious, addictive even, and this shaggy dog story has no neat resolution.
The Tiger Lillies are phenomenal. There’s a lot of heart in their Chelsea smiles and seeing them live is an experience in of itself. Guaranteed they’ll have you grinning from ear to ear.
For tickets and more information, visit edfringe.com