A man walks on to a dark, bare stage. If the bowler hat doesn't catch your attention, the trademark painted face does. Then the anxious, insistent tone of his accordion demands that you listen, before the voice, a voice like no other, drowns everything in its glorious falsetto - piercing, penetrating, perfect. Few will forget the jolt of hearing Martyn Jacques' voice for the first time and one wonders how the rest of the production can rise to the challenge of following that sweetest of shocks. But it does.
Stripped back to focus on Hamlet's broken family and Ophelia's breaking family, The Tiger Lilliescollaboration with Denmark's Republique Theatre Company (at The Queen Elizabeth II Hall, Southbank Centreuntil 21 September) gets to the hideous heart of the play through its beautiful poetry. Morten Burian's Hamlet is supercharged from his impassioned opening "too, too solid flesh" through to his deathly "The rest is silence". His exhilarating inhabiting of The Prince is matched by Nanna Finding Koppel's graceful, balletic Ophelia, whose precarious place between life and death is mirrored by her balancing feats and wire work. Zlatko Buric is very solid flesh indeed as King Claudius, a Hogarthian caricature and a glutton for food, power and sex. Queen Gertrude is an elegant but ruthless woman, a skilled courtesan who married both her lovers - as Andrea Vagn Jensen makes clear in her duet with Jacques in the funniest song of the night. Caspar Phillipson is single-mindedly vengeful as Laertes, but comes into his own as the masked, grotesque politician Polonius.
While all the set-pieces play out (including a witty and clever Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) Martyn Jacques strides about the stage or sits at the piano, commenting on events with songs full of hope, despair, passion, resignation, anger, love... twenty of them complementing video, circus skills, puppetry and holding the play together as the invention threatens to go out of control, but never quite does. Accompanied by fellow Tiger Lillies Adrian Stout and Mike Pickering, Jacques manages to command our attention while giving the stage to the actors, add to a play that seems impossible to supplement and enhance the poetry of England's finest poet. The gimlet eye is as impressive as the melodies.
Having been astonished for nearly three hours, the audience file out feeling privileged to have witnessed the intrnational cult of The Tiger Lillies with perhaps just one regret - how can Hamlet ever be as good again?