This solo show presents the story of the ultimate femme fatale, Mata Hari. Her colourful, multi-faceted life is re-enacted by Aletia Upstairs, who fuses a monologue that draws upon actual letters and interviews with music and dance. However, far from lending verisimilitude, this created a confused and disjointed show that never settled into a comfortable rhythm.
The show begins poignantly, as Upstairs showcases her rich, strong vocals in a song about the pain of waiting for death. It is the 14th October 1917, and Mata Hari is wrongly incarcerated in Saint-Lazare prison, anticipating her inescapable execution. She reflects upon her exciting past, delving into memories of events that paved the way to her current situation. Mata Hari’s story (a vibrant mix of exotic dancing, marital destruction and espionage) demands the audience’s attention, however the show’s execution fails to do it justice.
Upstairs’ dry delivery of the monologue renders the protagonist distinctly arrogant and unlikable, and the distracting projections on the screen behind her are far from helpful. Photographs of Mata Hari and her letters are used to create a sense of authenticity, but this is completely corrupted by the random projection of cartoonish images. The wooden choreography of Upstairs’ dancing does not alleviate the situation, as her movements are not integrated smoothly into the performance. The show’s saving grace could have been Upstairs’ vocals, but even the selection of songs contributed to the air of mismatched confusion. It was easy to see why the tunes of Eric Clapton’s ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down’ and Johnny Cash’s ‘25 Minutes to Go’ had been selected, but they jarred with the attempts to achieve a realistic telling of Mata Hari’s life.
Unfortunately this show never really finds its feet and, as it flits amongst different mediums, it is indecisive as to what tone it is trying to achieve. It reveals that Mata Hari clearly had an intriguing life worthy of recognition but, as it is, you’d probably be better off looking her up elsewhere.