Dame Nature fails to engage the audience with script or performance. There is not enough depth in narrative, detail or flow. It putters from the beginning to it’s end.
People with opinions always want you to know them.
This play is a wonderful opportunity to highlight the iniquities of judging people. However Dame Nature at Wilton’s Music Hall fails to engage either the audience or the topic. The show premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2016 and was the first production for Havoc, a network of artists that creates, promotes and celebrates innovative, surprising and entertaining theatre that is made to be accessible for all.
Dame Nature is described this way in its promotional literature:
Moisturise. Oil. Comb. Repeat.
Dame Nature is a performing bearded lady. With her husband, she’s been touring the highways and byways of Britain for 23 years. Their show was once the 8th Wonder of East Anglia but in 2016 tastes have changed and now bookings are thin on the ground. The highlight of their season is the second largest pub function room in the South East. Her husband won’t let her out, no one gets to see the show for free. So she spends her time alone practising new material, re-reading her collection of women’s mags and considering the merits of Phil Collins’ solo work.
But tonight, everything will change. Her husband is ill and for the very first time she must do the show alone. Join her on a journey of self-discovery, as she realises the disturbing truth behind her marriage and uncovers the exploitation that has trapped her for decades. Behind this bearded lady there’s a beardedlady.
A dark and off-kilter piece of theatre, creator Tim Bell was inspired by the extraordinary tale of Victorian bearded ladies, who led sheltered and isolated lives, often married to the circus owner and forbidden from socializing with the audience and other performers.
The production does not live up to the hype.
The design, however, is charming and provides initial interest, with actor Tim Bell peeping through the tat as the audience enters. Verity Quinn’s design outshines the remainder of the production. There is a wall montage of old costumes with patches of sparkle and enough variety to peak the interest and a trunk which holds a surprise prop that is amusing.
Bell begins the play as an anxious performer who has suddenly been left to fend for herself in a situation where she is normally the silent stage prop. In an effort to maintain the tired old theatrical more of ‘the show must go on…’ our bearded lady prattles through over an hour of largely unconnected inanities in quasi improvisation as she takes centre stage for a change.
There are some laughs in a play that is listed as hilarious. There are even some uncomfortable laughs when the Dame stands speechless and awkward at various times throughout the discourse.
In the midst of this vacuum are sparks addressing significant issues such as the social unacceptability of parading so called ‘freaks’ for amusement and profit and the subjugation of women in marriages. Whilst the side show circus references are historic there are enough current echoes to give the topic a contemporary relevance. However, the script too soon skitters away from dealing with the crux of the matter.
The most understated moment of Dame Nature comes at the end.
In the moment where the Dame accepts her place and begins to put on the trappings of her imprisonment again, there was blank face and silence. If there were any emotion within the character it would have been wonderful to see it.