Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott, Shockheaded Peter

Review in Issue 10-2 | Summer 1998

Inspired by Heinrich Hoffman’s 1844 collection of sinister children’s poetry Struwwelpeter, Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott’s production of Shockheaded Peter is a macabre carnival of grim fairy tales.

Using puppetry, music and performance, Shockheaded Peter recounts the grisly and comic fates of errant children. The backbone of the portmanteau of terrible tales and tall stories is provided by the story of Shockheaded Peter himself, a child so ugly his horrified parents feel obliged to hide him beneath the floorboards, where he grows to an enormous size until he completely dominates the stage. This is achieved with a series of grotesque puppets manipulated by a skilled cast.

Yet even at his most appallingly massive, Shockheaded Peter cannot overshadow the fine performance of Julian Bleach as the ghoulish MC. Physically and vocally he is a mass of strange angles, tiptoeing the fine line between melodrama and cartoon; alternatively seducing and repelling the audience by turns.

Described as ‘a junk opera’, the music for Shockheaded Peter is provided by cult London band The Tiger Lilies. Their music is an unlikely blend of Dada cabaret and seedy music hall. Front man Martyn Jacques’ soprano voice is the perfect instrument for Hoffman’s creepy poems set to music. It is the type of voice which can only be described as haunting

The endless and entirely appropriate applause at the end of the show confirms that, with Shockheaded Peter, Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott have once again triumphed.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. May 1998

This article in the magazine

Issue 10-2
p. 25