Tag Archives: Sally Hardcastle

Femme Fatale


Omnibus Theatre

Femme Fatale

Femme Fatale

Omnibus Theatre

Reviewed – 9th October 2019



“ultimately, it felt like a surface creation, which failed to realise its deeper ambitions”


Andy Warhol’s 1967 erotic film ‘I, A Man’ shows the central male character in a series of sexual encounters with eight different women, including Valerie Solanas and Nico. Valerie was the founder of radical feminist organisation SCUM (the Society for Cutting Up Men) and later went on to attempt to assassinate Warhol, and Nico was the German model and singer famed for her high profile rock ‘n’ roll affairs, as well as for her work with Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground. On the surface, the two women couldn’t be more different: one a working-class butch lesbian from New Jersey, the other a leggy blonde heterosexual European, and yet, as Polly Wiseman’s play points out, they shared more than their surface would initially suggest. Wiseman’s play throws the two women together in an imagined green room situation during the filming of ‘I, A Man’ and uses it as a contemporary feminist call to arms. The final image of the piece is a projection of the question, ‘What do you want to change in the world for women?’, and we are invited to pin our thoughts to a noticeboard, or to tweet them, @SCUM2019.

It’s a great premise, and an admirable cause, and there is clearly an appetite for this kind of work. Hundreds of women were on their feet night after night hearing the clarion call from Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia, ‘‘If they try to burn you, may your fire be stronger than theirs SO YOU CAN BURN THE WHOLE F*CKING HOUSE DOWN’. Unfortunately, in this case, the touch paper just didn’t light. The play felt hampered by specificity; by the very particular accents required of the performers, and, too, by the notoriousness of the period. The obvious audience enjoyment of Wiseman’s impersonation of Nico’s infamous deadpan German drawl, added to the smattering of 60s rock icon name-checks – Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Lou Reed – ultimately detracted from the piece’s political power. Similarly, much of the quickfire dialogue came across as glib and parodic. When Nico says, ‘Sunshine depresses me. There is too much expectation’, and Valerie voices the line, ‘Men’ll pay big to shoot the shit with a cunning linguist’, these broad brushstrokes limit them as women and take away from their humanity, which, in turn, makes it difficult for us to take them seriously. It also seemed a strange decision to characterise Valerie with such relentless cheerfulness. The women are different enough without this added extra thrown in. Another odd choice was the one to have Valerie mention her death by overdose. When Wiseman herself tells us – in Valerie’s potted biography printed in the script – that she died of pneumonia, what does this change do, other than falsely play into the already-problematic late-60s drug narrative that is touched on here?

The show was well designed – credit here to Sally Hardcastle (stage design) and particularly to Nathan Evans and Sophie Bailey for their excellent sound and video work – but ultimately, it felt like a surface creation, which failed to realise its deeper ambitions. Despite the cabaret moments, and the occasional use of direct address, Sophie Olivia’s Valerie and Polly Wiseman’s Nico never fully reached out and touched us from that stage, which is a shame, because, in reality, those women’s lives most definitely did.



Reviewed by Andrea Wright


Femme Fatale

Omnibus Theatre until 27th October


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Quietly | ★★★ | October 2018
To Have to Shoot Irishmen | ★★★★ | October 2018
The Selfish Giant | ★★★★ | December 2018
Hearing Things | ★★★★ | January 2019
The Orchestra | ★★★ | January 2019
Lipstick: A Fairy Tale Of Iran | ★★★ | February 2019
Tony’s Last Tape | ★★★★ | April 2019
Country Music | ★★★★ | May 2019
Othello: Remixed | ★★★★ | June 2019
Lone Star Diner | ★★★ | September 2019


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The Buzz – 3 Stars


The Buzz

Bread & Roses Theatre

Reviewed – 10th May 2018


“a prescient rather than topical piece of writing, nevertheless this undernourished production seems to miss an opportunity”


Something smells fresh at The Bread and Roses theatre, with a new artistic director, new writing talent and emerging actors all involved in The Buzz, one of three winning plays from the theatre’s 2016/17 competition for new works. Lydia Rynne’s dark comedy addresses the dubious ethics of celebrity through the persona of Kyla (Sassy Clyde), a once well-known TV star now reduced to being ‘a famous elbow’ intruding into the cropped photos of her popstar partner, Josh (Andrew Umerah), on the red carpet.

The show starts promisingly. Still buzzing after Josh’s triumphant night at the awards, the celebrity couple return to their shared penthouse to enjoy the event’s coverage on TV and social media. As Josh retires and Kyla drinks alone, her dropout brother Nate (Gabriel Cagan) visits, seemingly to tease her about her obsession with fame and berate her neglect of her family. Implausibly, he then sends her out for more alcohol, whereupon his partner-in-protest Cordelia (who humorously prefers the name ‘Anon’) joins him to drug and truss up the rock star, hoping to extract a confession of tax evasion. Matters deteriorate into black farce as Kyla returns and Cordelia blurts out another, more disturbing narrative.

As a promising new writer, Lydia Rynne and the actors could have hoped for firmer direction. Characterisations wander and the reliability of testimonies dissipates in a morass of unclear motivations. Andrew Umerah portrays the entitlement of success well, but finds it harder to keep up when the character becomes more ambiguous. Similarly, Sassy Clyde plays the wise-cracking lass from Chorley with no problems, but her character is supposed to have known fame and is still addicted to the idea of stardom. To be plausible, more steel and composure is needed, whereas Hannah Duffy’s conflicted Cordelia breezes in, emotionally committed in performance as if from another genre. Gabriel Cagan is solid as Nate, playing the anti-establishment squatter with all the naivety and angst the stereotype demands.

As incoming artistic director, Velenzia Spearpoint’s direction of her own first production may be an overreach. The unimaginative set (Sally Hardcastle) with its cardboard gold records feels more suited to Nate’s squatter community than to a global superstar, though it’s greatly helped by Chuma Emembolu on the sound desk, managing the output of the invisible big screen TV like a Dad with the remote control.

The nature of the line-up makes this a take on celebrity derived from the media rather experience, all white rugs and pink drinks. However, in the final moments the play hits a live cable, evoking recent celebrity rape scandals, the abuse of power and stifling of the female voice. Given the competition predates the scandals, The Buzz is a prescient rather than topical piece of writing, nevertheless this undernourished production seems to miss an opportunity.


Reviewed by Dominic Gettins


The Buzz

Bread & Roses Theatre until 19th May


How related
Blue Moon | ★★★ | January 2018
 F*ckingLifeMate | ★★★★★ | March 2018


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