My first visit to Omnibus Theatre, for Polly Wiseman’s Femme Fatale, finds a welcoming space with a lovely bar (always a plus). The theatre itself (the common room) is nicely set out, comfy seats with a good view of the stage. The set design is white and minimal, with some iconic Andy Warhol brillo boxes taking centre stage along with feminist posters and manifestos set off to the side. As Aretha Franklin’s RESPECT fades, Sophie Olivia takes the stage with a sort of comedy stand up introduction. The production is brimming with feminist hope.
The scenic catalyst of Femme Fatale is the meeting of two controversial female icons in a hotel room in 60s New York. Nico (played by Polly Wiseman), the dry German superstar and singer with the Velvet Underground, and Valerie Sonalas (played by Sophie Olivia), a radical feminist and founder of S.C.U.M. (Society for Cutting up Men). Both women are linked to Andy Warhol, their meeting revolves around him but, more than that, develops into a discourse on feminism and female rights.
The strength of this play comes from its humour. As a production it is really funny, with some genuinely laugh out loud moments throughout. More, the individual performances of Wiseman and Olivia are both excellent. Separately they play believable and interesting characters. Wiseman writes a fantastic script, with some very witty lines; ‘Sunshine depresses me. There is too much expectation…’ The context of the play is also really interesting. I didn’t know anything about the attempted assassination of Andy Warhol, or indeed that much about Nico and Valerie, so the development of the storyline is certainly captivating.
Unfortunately, while the individual performances are excellent, the relationship between the two protagonists is less believable. Some moments feel forced and awkward, particularly in the finale where there is certainly a forgotten line or two and a feeling of disconnect. More importantly than this, the overriding feminist message of the production, in my opinion, falls slightly flat.
Of course, feminism runs strongly as a theme throughout the play. ‘If all women left their men… we could create a magic world.’ Sometimes though, this feminist discourse feels too brash, too obvious and without any subtlety or nuance. Towards the end, Wiseman tries to link the plight of feminism in the 60s to the struggles of modern day, but it feels a bit of a clumsy afterthought. I hoped to leave Femme Fatale feeling empowered, but unfortunately, I left feeling a little bit disappointed.
Written by: Polly Wiseman
Directed by: Nathan Evans
Produced by: Elise Phillips & Fireraisers
Booking Link: https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/femme-fatale/
Booking until: 27 October 2019