Review | The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner_sun and sea

This review was written for Animations Online

Using Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ to give them both a structure and a theme, The Tiger Lillies present their musical take on the epic poem. Never more than a band playing a gig, albeit an unusual one, it’s Mark Holthusen’s animated set that makes this an interesting piece of stagecraft. Using a screen behind the band and a very fine see-through one stretched in front of them, Holthusen’s projected Python-esque animations illuminate the band’s progress through a series of slow piano ballads and bawdier songs.

The potential for this to be a brilliant aural and visual treat is high but on the night The Tiger Lillies seem lack lustre, almost at odds with the animated wonders going on around them. The songs follow a predictable pattern of fast then slow, then fast, then slow, with little variety in between, and the actual story they are attempting to tell proves hard to decipher. There are some great turns on the accordion, saw and pheromone, which help create an eerie maritime atmosphere, but overall the band just don’t look like they’re enjoying themselves.

While it’s hard to say what Coleridge would think of the Tiger Lillies’ interpretation of his poem, he would surely be slack jawed at the projected set. A series of moving images, combining filmed live action and animation, fill the stage with life. Within the film, there’s circus style aerial work and acrobatics, rod and string puppets, and some great masks. Drunken sailors wrestle among barrels, mermaids swim through the air, a huge albatross puppet sweeps across the stage, sails billow and the flames of hell leap. The richly coloured suns, moons and clouds are especially striking, and recall Terry Gilliam’s paper cut out work for Monty Python.

While the animation is a highlight, the illusion isn’t complete. The fine screen in front of the band is hard to ignore, and creates a barrier between them and the audience that could help to explain why they feel so distant. There is no interaction at all between the band and the graphics around them. And some of the imagery is random, mere wallpaper, rather than supporting the story.

Aesthetically gorgeous, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is worth watching purely for the projections. But even that’s no ‘Animals and Children took to The Streets’ in terms of innovation, excitement and, perhaps most importantly, integration with the people on stage. That said, the Opera North project the band and the animator are collaborating on next sounds intriguing, and hopefully will see the music and visuals combine to much better effect.

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