Femme Fatale, Omnibus Theatre – Review

“The Personal is Political” – Carol Hanisch

Second wave feminism garnered serious traction in the 1960s and ’70s. In doing so, its shift turned to not only how society treats women in general, but the conscious choices made by women themselves – including the example the more privileged ‘should’ set to others… Written by Polly Wiseman and directed by Nathan Evans, Femme Fetale examines the changing face of feminine identity from opposite ends of the fame spectrum. At one end, ‘Nico’ who came to the fore as a singer with the Andy Warhol-managed Velvet Underground. And on the other end, Valerie Solanas – author, playwright and archetypal ‘angry’ feminst, whose past circumstances contributed to her deeply-felt views on ‘the system’.

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L-R: Nico (Polly Wiseman) and Valerie Solanas (Sophie Olivia) / © Pau Ros

Inspired by the fact that the both women appeared in one of Warhol’s movies together, Wiseman has imagined what they had to say to each other. Sophie Olivia plays the determined Solanas, who what she lacks on social graces makes up for in determination. Meanwhile, looking every bit the Teutonic chanteuse of yesteryear, Wiseman taps into the mulitlayered, fractured public figure who is haunted by her memories and past choices. Initially, there is tension between them as Nico isn’t sure who she is dealing with or what Solanas’ motives are – especially as Solanas is upfront about her ‘manifesto’ for the overthrow of the status quo.

The show has an element of ‘cabaret’ in the sense that Olivia as Solanas ‘breaks the fourth wall’ to interact with the audience. In keeping with her character, we see how Solanas’ demeanour colours the response she receives from the world at large – not so much what she says, but how she says it.

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Both women want ‘something’ in the play, but really their ‘wants’ pertain to something else, something deeper. For Solanas, Warhol’s possible patronage of her play would mean more than her own “15 seconds” of fame; it would mean her ideas would be disseminated by someone who the world liked – or at least listened to. As for Nico, her craving for her next ‘hit’ isn’t about her drug habit. It’s about keeping her demons at bay. Despite everything’s that’s happened to her, she is a survivor.

The ‘Super 8’ projections behind the cast at judicious points conveys the newsreels of a bygone age, as well as their relevance to the future.

It’s worth noting Wiseman also performs a couple of tracks in the style of ‘Nico’ and playing the harmonium. Asides from giving us a flavour of the singer’s vocal delivery, the songs’ nature and arrangement subliminally fleshes out Nico’s state of mind.

© Michael Davis 2019

Femme Fatale runs at the Omnibus Theatre, Clapham until 27th October

Femme Fatale

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