Frank Wedekind’s Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box, also known as the ‘Lulu plays’ explore the power of sexuality and seduction while truly pushing the envelope in terms of what was acceptable to put on stage in the late nineteenth century. Although today’s theatre has considerably more freedom, the final year actors of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama still manage to present a shockingly promiscuous production in two acts and with five different Lulus.

In Nicholas Wright’s adaptation we follow Lulu, a young woman who is constantly glorified by everyone around her. Wherever she goes, lust seems to follow her and she uses that to her advantage more and more as the play develops. Moving from husband to husband and lover to lover, she climbs the social ladder until her past catches up with her, and she is forced into poverty and selling her body for money.

Christian Burgess’s direction certainly has its ups and downs. Each section of Lulu’s life is portrayed by a different actress, connected by smooth and clever transitions. In the first scenes of the play the genre of the production is still questionable, stuck somewhere between melodrama and absurdist theatre, but once the humour is introduced it really starts to work. Each Lulu is different, finding something new in the character: Claudia Jolly is clever and dominant, while Ellen Gibbons is disillusioned and melancholic as she watches her past admirers worshipping one of her old portraits. But the production allows plenty of other characters to shine: Nicholas Richardson portrays a loveable and dynamic Rodrigo, Paul Gorostidi is magnetic as Schigolch, and Bessie Carter is exceptionally heart-breaking as she shows her impressive range playing Countess Geschwitz. Overall, the entire cast make bold and brave choices and execute them with commitment, even though sometimes I questioned the blocking of several scenes and the actors’ understanding of the text.

The production’s set design creates levels and dimensions that open up the action and give the actors plenty of room to move and to use the space creatively. It also helps the audience identify each Lulu by projecting their painted portraits onto the stage. The lighting design gives the production a mysterious atmosphere that is both seductive and disconcerting at the same time. Paired with great music, the show has some truly captivating moments. It sends a clear message about sex and the worship of the body, but still leaves room for themes such as love, money and discrimination. With a strong cast and talented musicians, Lulu is able to be funny and unsettling at the same time.

Lulu is playing at the Silk Street Theatre until the 2 December. For more information and tickets, see the Guidhall School of Music & Drama website.