Inspired by G.W. Pabst’s 1928 silent film “Pandora’s Box” — as well as the original Franz Wedekind play and biographical information about actress Louise Brooks — “Lulu” is probably the theater highlight of this year’s Sydney Festival. Neill Gladwin’s feisty adaptation of the film attempts to capture a moment in Hollywood history when starlet Brooks became forever linked to the image of the sexually voracious Lulu character.
Filmmaker Pabst, having passed on Marlene Dietrich for “Pandora’s Box,” immortalized Brooks as the sultry, doomed beauty Lulu. But the Berlin-shot film was censored and received only limited releases in Germany and the U.S., and Brooks sunk into obscurity. She resurfaced in 1982 with “Lulu in Hollywood,” an autobiography about her patchy Hollywood career.
Now, director Gladwin attempts to find a nonverbal, comedic way to tell the stories of both Lulu and Brooks, resulting in mesmerizing and memorable images of a foggy, film noir atmosphere. Despite a slightly obtuse and disjointed first 15 minutes, “Lulu” captivates with Gladwin’s creation of a living black-and-white silent movie, enacted through movement, dance, clowning, mime and music.
Several extended visual jokes work well with Shaun Gurton’s wonderful set, such as a hilarious scene in which Lulu’s husband, her female lover and two other male suitors chase Lulu and one another in and out of six onstage doors, party music blaring up and down with each opening and slamming.
Although derided by some crix as a victory of style over substance, “Lulu” nonetheless intrigues with its inventive nonverbal enactment of a riveting story, and its depiction of a character who sparked two murders, numerous fights, passions and immense jealousies.