TIGER LADY at Greenwich Theatre
As we arrived at Greenwich Theatre to see Tiger Lady we were greeted by the cast wandering around the auditorium offering shots, chatting, joking and generally creating an ambience of exuberant fun. Meanwhile, alone on stage, unmoving and downcast, sat the work’s central character. The contrast brilliantly summed up the play’s dynamic.
Tiger Lady tells the astonishing story of Mabel Stark who ran away from the suffocating atmosphere of her fundamentalist home to join the circus in America and went on to be an international sensation as a tiger-tamer – at a huge emotional cost.
The story of her obsession with her big cats and its devastating effect on her personal life would make a great “traditional” play. But that’s not the way Dead Rabbits Theatre Company operates. And in the hands of artistic director Kasia Zaremba-Byrne this pulled off the neat trick of exploring the deeper recesses of the human soul while maintaining a veneer of light-heartedness that even veered off into slapstick (I loved the awfulness of the Flying Gambini Brothers’ act!) without ever subverting the dramatic tension. In fact, it added to it.
Plainly the audience thought so too because Tiger Lady not only attracted a packed house but also won a much-deserved standing ovation.
Natisha Williams was marvellous as Mabel, balancing pathos and passion with great skill – and a great Deep South accent. She was wonderfully supported by Abayomi Oniyide as the man who tried – and failed – to win her heart, Antonio Victorio as the money-grubbing egotistical impresario Al G Barnes, James Parker as Mabel’s big cat guru Louis, Chloe Waddilove as circus dancer Maggie and Eddie Breckenridge as Rajah the tiger. Not only were they called upon to act in every genre imaginable but they also sang and played an array of instruments. Remarkable.
A final word of praise to designer Tina Bicat. The scenes in which a parachute was transformed into a huge elephant and then into the Pacific Ocean were magical – just like the rest of the show.