More of a personal theatrical experience than what one might expect from a show described as ‘cabaret’, Allie Jessing’s Hetaira: A Mythic Cabaret sees the talented actress delivering a mostly-monologued insight into the life of an immortal woman called Aspasia. Our narrator and protagonist tells us of the experiences she has encountered and the identities she has adopted across a range of classical civilisations over the past 2500 years. If you have an interest in hearing a unique perspective on what life may have been like for a woman in Ancient Greece, Viking heyday, The Dark Ages and post-WWI Berlin, then this show is well worth an hour of your time.
An engaging character, lovingly portrayed by an avid enthusiast of the history she tells
Aspasia is an engaging character, portrayed lovingly by Jessing, who is clearly an avid enthusiast of the history she tells, and has written a captivating script to allow her audience to immerse themselves in her world. The story is a series of scenes set in different historical periods, with appropriate costume and commentary on her experience in each. Along the way, she describes meeting some historical personalities including Alexander The Great, Loki and Mozart. Each period features a haunting ode, assumedly in the language of the culture in which it is set. While each song has its own unique element – such as the inclusion of a lyre and a Pitch Perfect cup routine-style song in which her body is used in lieu of a prop – they are all quite similar, and don’t always define the nuanced differences of the period. Her singing voice is lovely, with her operatic voice delivering some powerful traditional-sounding numbers, though there are some missed opportunities to display a wider range of singing and song styles. It appears each song is performed in accurate ancient languages, but it’s hard to distinguish the differences in dialect.
On the cabaret front, the audience are seldom involved, but Aspasia does approach each member at various points to deliver a short but usually intense monologue, while maintaining close eye contact, to make everyone feel a part of the action. The lecture is encapsulating, covering a range of cultural areas, and the emotional climax has potential to bring a tear to the audience. It certainly brings one to the actress. It’s clear that Allie treasures her role, and delights in sharing her passion with the public. Those seeking an interactive cabaret show or an easy-watching piece that doesn’t challenge may find little joy here, as the show does require at least a passing interest, or desire to explore, classical civilisations and the history of femininity. If that sounds up your street then this is an unsung and intimate gem that could be a real Fringe highlight for right-minded people, and Hetaira certainly deserves to be accessed by a wider audience.