Review: Frau Welt

Frau Welt
Hackney Showroom, 5*

If you have not yet had the deliciously dubious pleasure of meeting the notorious Frau Welt, then I suggest you get out your diary and make a date with her. You have until the 21st of October at the Hackney Showroom, but I hope that, in her quest to find both the perfect spotlight and strudel, she will travel further afield for those who like genre-busting theatre to find her.

The Hackney Showroom website states that it is:

“East London’s newest cultural centre…an inclusive and vibrant warehouse arts venue with an outstanding and affordable programme of shows, festivals and events with something for everyone.”

It certainly seems to be walking the walk as well as talking the talk. The staff were welcoming, friendly and, it has to be said, effortlessly cool. This is Hackney, after all. After the show a member of the Artistic Team welcomed us to get involved with the life of the venue. I’m optimistic that we’ll hear much more from the Hackney Showroom.

I enjoyed a glass of the special ‘Frau Fizz’, a refreshing blend of sparkling rosé, gin and elderflower, and then went through to ‘The Big Space’. The set (built by Liam Hill) is a stylishly utilitarian one, combining a feel of ‘black box’ theatre with a real sense of theatricality. The entire stage is surrounded by light bulbs, mimicking the dressing room mirror that reflects her haunted visage to us all (or indeed the self she wants us to see). There are seats beside the stage for those who want a more intimate experience.

Frau Welt is a grande dame of the theatre whose vicious rise to the top backfires somewhat, leaving her nursing secrets and anger rather than a Tony Award. The evening sees her sing her swansong, with tales of past misdemeanours and cruelties, the ripples of which having left her washed up and stranded, wondering at the point of it all.

In a sumptuously funny performance, Peter Clements’ impeccable comic timing brings this ruthless leading lady to life. Blissfully unaware of world events happening around her (the brewing storm clouds of the Second World War merely obstructing her light) she begins in Berlin, 1937. Claiming to be disgusted at the debauchery, and her beloved Ernst not being all that she would wish, she claws her way to celebrity. Act two reunites us with Frau Welt in New York, 1979. A changed woman, her bleak and cutting humour is not for the faint of heart.

Clements brings the kind of natural star quality to his performance that Frau Welt so desperately craves. His energy, commitment and charisma effortlessly flow past the footlights and fill the space. A solo show is no mean feat, and he makes it look easy with his unique brand of drag breathing real life into director Oliver Dawe’s perfectly paced narrative drama.

Positive mention goes to the stage manager, Shannon Martin, who enjoys comedy cameos during the scene changes. Special mention must go to the outstanding sound and lighting design (Owen Crouch and Joshua Pharo respectively). The enveloping ‘surround sound’ and nuanced lighting were almost characters in their own right, Frau Welt’s ghostly face coming at me through the melodramatic mists of time to the tune of history is something I won’t forget in a hurry.

For anyone who wants to watch superb theatre (and then go home thinking ‘what exactly have I just seen?’), for anyone who likes to laugh at the absurdity of life, people and theatre (but still get a real kick out of all of those things)… Mein lieblings…just go!

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© Jezza Donovan 2017


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