Omnibus Theatre until 27th Oct 2019
Femme Fatale headlines Perception Festival at Omnibus’ Theatre; this is the 5th year for this festival which aims to bring some of the lesser heard voices to Omnibus stages; including female identifying and queer voices.
In this new play by Polly Wiseman, we bear witness to an imagined meeting between Nico (Polly Wiseman), of Velvet Underground and Valerie Solanas (Sophie Olivia) – prolific feminist, lesbian, and writer of The S.C.U.M Manifesto. It’s an interesting premise for a story and was simultaneously humorous and thought provoking. Included were moments of Valerie directly addressing the audience as though trying to recruit us for her cause – which added lightness to the piece. I wonder if the real Valerie may have been a bit harsher towards her audiences; Olivia played her acerbity with a twinkle in the eye and in moments with a childlike vulnerability, which couldn’t help but win you over – how delightful to see this queer female voice onstage; I don’t mind if she was quite different from the real Valerie. Nico is the contrast, cold, and pessimistic – Wiseman is enjoyable to watch in this role and gives a convincingly good portrayal. Although on occasion the connection between the two felt clunky, there was something quite captivating about this piece and the stories of these two women. The journeys they had traveled up to this collision and their experiences of the world, set them apart in their feminist values – but the moments where they meet; where they bridge the gap, are a real gift for the audience. At it’s heart, Femme Fatale is a blaring call to action, a fervent reminder to keep the momentum of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements going.
I must admit, I have grappled with feminism over the past couple of years, as I’ve frequently found that my feminism (especially as a queer woman) doesn’t always align with that of my peers and counter parts; large swathes of feminism have become more obviously exclusionary, which has often made me want to step-away; from the movement not the cause. So it feels important to commend Polly Wiseman’s new play, Femme Fatale for reigniting a spark within me, and reminding me the importance of knowing our feminist roots. I was aware of the SCUM Manifesto, but knew very little of its creator Valerie Solanas and for all the fiction in this piece, it’s also hugely educational. In joining the dots between feminism across the past 40 years, it left me wanting to go home and do my own further research in to both of these characters and the feminist movement during the 60s and beyond.
Another highlight of the evening for me was being invited to add my own words to a new feminist manifesto at the end of the play, it brought the piece full circle and the installation of audience voices in the space was a nice touch with an impact, and being invited to remain in the theatre following the show, reflect on my thoughts and add to the manifesto felt meaningful.
Back in the bar after the show, I found myself immediately immersed in a deep discussion around contemporary feminism, with friends old and new, a passionate and personal conversation fuelled by the events we’d just witnessed, and if that’s not theatre doing the very best job it can, then I’m not sure what is.
Femme Fatale runs at Omnibus Theatre until 27th October as part of Perception Festival, which also has a number of other shows on over the course of the month.
© Amie Taylor 2019