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Fireraisers presents Femme Fatale at Wilton’s Music Hall

Femme Fatale - AbsolutQueer PhotographyIt’s 1968 and we’re in a room at the infamous Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan where Nico, who’s a singer with Velvet Underground is asleep atop three giant Brillo pad boxes when her reverie is disturbed by the entrance of Valerie Solanas a radical, feminist activist who wakes Nico up and Femme Fatale is up and running.

Solanas is in the hotel ostensibly to make a film with Andy Warhol (hence the giant Warholesque Brillo boxes) but doesn’t know what’s happening and when. So, whilst she’s waiting, she tries to convince Nico that her SCUM manifesto which argues that men have ruined the world and women need to fix it is the way forward. But Nico (real name Christine Päffgen) is the opposite of a feminist living a hedonistic, bohemian lifestyle and is the lover of Jim Morrison (The Doors), Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones) and many other rock stars of the time. She’s also a heroin addict who convinces Solanas to score her some drugs. The two have differing philosophies about men but at the end of the play, they’ve bonded and have more in common than they may have thought when they first met.

During the fifty minutes or so of Femme Fatale we get Nico singing and playing her harmonium, the breaking of the fourth wall by Solanas as she harangues the men in the audience about their shortcomings, some projections on the wall behind giving us time and place and an odd use of simulated flash photography as Nico had been a model when just a teenager. We also have the re-enactment of the event that made Solanas famous – the shooting and seriously wounding in May 1968 of Andy Warhol for which she was sentenced to three years in prison for “reckless assault with intent to harm”!

Femme Fatale brings together two deeply flawed women in a flawed piece of theatre. It never seems to gel as a piece and the dialogue just doesn’t flow. However, the play isn’t helped by being performed in completely the wrong space. Wilton’s Music Hall can be magical for the right production but it’s fairly cavernous and the acoustics are just not right for an intimate piece of theatre and I must admit having missed some of the dialogue which didn’t help my appreciation of the play. On top of that, the stage is in two sections and it was played out mainly at the back on the elevated part so there was a gap of at least ten feet or so between the actors and the audience sitting right at the front. It would have been much better for the actors and the audience if this had been performed in a small, above the pub theatre where the audience would have been much nearer the performers and could have heard all of the dialogue.

And whilst I’m critical of the writing and production, the two performers were excellent. Polly Wiseman (who also wrote the play) channels Nico perfectly and has the right air of Germanic haughtiness as well as singing (if you could call it singing – Nico had a very distinctive sound) and playing the harmonium. Sophie Olivia is perfect as the crazed, feminist New Yorker and this is re-enforced by some footage of the real Valerie Solanas at the end of the play.

As this was a one-off performance, I’m not sure what the plans for it are. It would be perfect for the Edinburgh Fringe but wherever the production company Fireraisers take it, I hope it’s somewhere a lot smaller than Wiltons.

2 gold stars

Review by Alan Fitter

The Chelsea Hotel, New York, 1968. Nico, Warhol’s muse and singer with The Velvet Underground is waiting to shoot her role in Andy Warhol’s latest movie and for her lover, Jim Morrison, when her room is invaded by Valerie Solanas, radical feminist and would-be Warhol assassin. A duel to the death begins…
Based on possibly the original #TimesUp moment, the play is right for right now.

17th July 2018
Femme Fatale
Credits: written by Polly Wiseman, directed by Nathan Evans, performed by Polly Wiseman and Sophie Olivia
Wilton’s Music Hall, Graces Alley, London E1 8JB


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