The Lulu House

Camille O'Sullivan in 'The Lulu House' by Siren Productions at Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival

Camille O'Sullivan in 'The Lulu House' by Siren Productions at Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival

In this intimate and multi-sensory journey through the nooks and crannies of James Joyce House (the setting of The Dead), Siren Productions combines all its artistic knacks in a loose, ethereal exploration of Wedekind’s 'Lulu' plays and actress Louise Brooks’s role as Lulu in Pabst’s silent film Pandora’s Box (1929).
From the moment one steps foot through the temporarily renamed fanlight of The Lulu House, attention to detail is explicit: the man checking our tickets through a kiosk window (Lulu’s counterpart, Lorcan Cranitch) is clad head to foot in casual 1930s attire with thick-framed jam-jar spectacles, and, as revealed during his (subsequent) opening performance, red tweed slippers. 

The first room, in all its Victorian splendour, invites us to browse around its walls where photographs of the infamously beautiful and black-bobbed Louise Brooks are displayed.  Glass cabinets also exhibit some of the principal props used in Pandora’s Box, including her blood-red lipstick, a string of pearls and a bough of mistletoe.  After a brief yet fanatical induction on Brooks’s iconic screen sensationalism, Cranitch performs one of the first instances of complete character dissolution—a recurring aspect of the piece—in a wonderfully frenzied accompaniment to a scene from the film.  As if generated from the stirrings of his troubled imagination, Louise/Lulu (Camille O’Sullivan) enters the room in her ghostly white gown.  She oozes a suave and melodramatic kind of mysticism, but in the face of her stabbing black eyes, it is quite clear there is no room for filmic artifice here. 

From there, we follow her cautiously through the house as selective scenes unfold in the corners of darkened rooms, on the stairs, through the window, in the basement, on the street.  The accompanying projections of film are not a backdrop to this piece, but entities so closely synchronized and intertwined with the live performances of O’Sullivan and Cranitch that the result is an immediately symbiotic and inter-reliant marriage of stage and screen.  The semi-speechless actors only serve to remind us how superfluous speech really is when everything else speaks louder – in the momentous and haunting score by Conor Linehan, in the action, the images, the song, and even the wafting aroma of fresh popcorn that complements a stand-alone installation of film.

While Cranitch demonstrates remarkable dexterity in his metamorphosis from one male character to the other, O’Sullivan’s notable performance captures the bilateral nature of the complex Lulu character.  Poised always on the edge of her inevitable decline, she is suspended somewhere between her tragic naiveté and venomous sexual authority.  This difficult dichotomy is played out particularly well in Lulu’s German rendition of the song ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ where her initially elegant serenade on the stairs slowly and seamlessly transpires into something of a grotesquely desperate attempt at self-preservation.  Her interaction with the installations—not only synchronizing with them, but her sporadic acknowledgement of herself within them—adds an interesting layer to the piece and is suggestive (in real time) of her bearing torturous witness to her own demise in the replaying spools of film surrounding her in each of the rooms.  Another significant element to the piece was the momentary separation of audience members into two different spaces and Lulu’s frantic pleading with us to keep what we had just witnessed in our room to ourselves.  In the deliberately disorientating relocation from one dark space to the next thereafter, the sense of ‘group’ was difficult to distinguish and I was left wondering whether the separated members were unfortunate enough not to have witnessed the same, or whether they experienced something altogether different in those brief moments apart.

Sinéad McKenna’s evocative lighting enables an interesting use of shadow and reflection throughout and Cathal Synnott’s sound effects underscored the icy eeriness required for the facade-shattering basement scene.  A few too many audience members inhibited the flow from one scene to the next and amidst the whispered apologies for invading personal space and stepping on toes I was, as a result, made all too aware of my own presence throughout this quasi peep-show experience.

For those who are not familiar with Wedekind’s plays or Pabst’s film, the context of The Lulu House may border on the abstruse, but otherwise, director Selina Cartmell has chosen a difficult source for her inspiration, and (yet again) delivered a fine piece of imaginative and intriguing work which left most of us speechless.

Jennifer Lee holds an MPhil in Theatre and Performance and is currently completing her PhD thesis at DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Lulu House by Siren Productions

30 Sept - 16 Oct, 2011

Produced by Siren Productions
In James Joyce House (The Dead)

Directed by Selina Cartmell

Produced by Marie Rooney

Featuring Camille O’Sullivan and Lorcan Cranitch

Music by Conor Linehan

Lighting by Sinéad McKenna

Sound by Cathal Synnott

Video by Jack Phelan