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Dame Nature: The Magnificent Bearded Lady at Wilton’s Music Hall

Dame Nature - Ferment July - Photographer Jack Offord
Dame Nature – Ferment July – Photographer Jack Offord

A hairdresser’s dream… A blind date’s nightmare.” They’ve never missed a show… but tonight she is having to go solo and perform it her way…rather than his.

Well good for her.

Dame Nature, The Magnificent Bearded Lady is brought energetically to life by Tim Bell, founder of Havoc Theatre Company itself. The company aims to create entertaining and surprising theatre, and this has most definitely been achieved here. Dame Nature is a delightful mix of comedy and thoughtfulness, with some improvisation and an interpretive dance thrown in for good measure. The result is an audience left pondering the image fuelled world we live in today, women’s rights and when is the line crossed and ‘care’ turns into domestic abuse?

Bell has the audience hooked from the beginning, with an intriguing, nervous entrance that keeps all on the edge of their seats. There is a mutual feeling of trust, and the growing confidence of this Bearded Lady is endearing and lovely to see.

Of course, the audience are all aware that this is a man playing a woman, and gladly not like a pantomime dame, but just in a matter of fact way. There isn’t any need for effeminate vocals but one wonders whether a more feminine physical interpretation would have been nice to highlight that she is more ladylike than at first glance. However, since this play promotes that it’s what’s on the inside that counts do we really need that? The decision could be applauded, because the costume and the storytelling work, and we know that this is a woman. A woman who wants to make her mark on the world for being more than a beard.

Bell takes us on a whirlwind tour of all the other things Dame Nature is capable of. His widening eyes and childlike storytelling really draws the audience in, and his energy is well focussed. There is a constant shift between comedy and tension, sometimes bringing comedy and tension together which is intriguing to witness.

Smartly co-directed by Hannah Kew and Laurence Cook, the emphasis moves away from the beard itself early on. It’s not the main attraction anymore. We move through Dame Nature’s many interests and hobbies, through the delights of Phil Collins, and begin climbing up toward her experience of what can frankly only be described as a controlling relationship. We learn that Julia Pastrana, lifelong member of the Sisterhood to which Dame Nature belongs, was married to her husband purely so he could exhibit her. We hear horrific details of the things these ladies went through, yet the lady in front of us in 2017 is so convinced that she married purely for love, and that she never goes out in public because that is what is best.

Once again it provokes questions about what was acceptable years ago, what is deemed unacceptable now, and why the unacceptable is somehow still accepted?

Bell really does hold the audience in the palm of his hand the whole way through. We want this lovely lady to take charge of her life and fulfil her dreams. First step – do the show her own way. Second step – be whoever she wants to be. It’s a thought-provoking lesson for all.

4 stars

Review by H. Hemming

A poignant, off-kilter show for people who don’t like to judge a woman by her beard
Moisturise. Oil. Comb. Repeat.
Moisturise. Oil. Comb. Repeat.
Moisturise. Oil. Comb. Repeat.

Dame Nature is a bearded lady who has been looking after her facial furniture for as long as she can remember. And she just can’t stop combing over the past. Once the star of the show, she now spends her days in the depths of her dressing room contemplating the fading roar of the crowd, lost love and the merits of Phil Collins’ solo work.

Join Dame Nature, straight from the old world of Victorian music hall, for an evening of stories and characters as she recounts tales from her extraordinary life and takes a hilarious, heartfelt and hairy look at a world in which, unfortunately for her, it’s not what’s on the inside that counts.

10th January to 14th January. 7:45pm to 9pm . No interval
https://wiltons.org.uk/

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