Head on down to the Hackney Showrooms, and you’ll discover something truly remarkable.
Passing through a black curtain to enter the performance space for their current production, Frau Welt, a sense of drama hangs in the air. An impressively imposing stage, adorned with dozens of bulbs – a slick design by Joanna Scotcher – adds to this effect and transports the audience to some bygone era, all before the action has even begun. This is no mean feat, what with the busy streets of Hackney bustling away just outside.
And then we meet the highly anticipated Frau herself. A siren of the Berlin stage who is blinded by the bright lights of Broadway and by her own cutthroat ambition, Frau Welt is a domineering and demonic Grand Dame of the theatre. And played by the Peter Clements, she is also a fierce drag superstar – though this is often forgotten, as we become swept away by her story.
It would actually be a disservice say that Frau Welt is played by Clements. Clearly a true master of his craft, he simply is Frau Welt. He inhabits her, and she consumes him. Clements gives a performance of such precision and finesse that every flick of the finger, every twitch of the jaw, every look and every word is executed perfectly. It is a great responsibility to carry a whole show on one’s shoulders, but with Clements we are in safe hands.
In fact, the same can be said of the entire production. Oliver Dawe’s direction is refined and nuanced, and strikes a highly effective balance between absurdist cabaret and truthful theatre. This would have been all but lost if it weren’t for the simply breathtaking use of sound and lighting. Owen Crouch’s soundscape flows flawlessly, while Joshua Pharo’s lighting design is honestly among the best I’ve seen in a production of this scale. The combination of the two, notably in the dramatic act one finale, proved extremely powerful.
Frau Welt is no walk in the park. Entertaining throughout, unsettling at times and the even downright gruesome at one point. Being a full-length two act play, a certain stamina is required of the audience (which is of course nothing compared to the incredible show of stamina displayed by Clements), and at times I found myself questioning the narrative journey. Indeed, at the interval I wasn’t entirely certain where we were going. I suspect however that this was the desired effect, because by the time we reached the harrowing and wholly satisfying conclusion, any concerns were well and truly put to rest.
I recommend you make every effort to go see Frau Welt. Not to would be an opportunity truly missed. And whether it’s thanks to the skill of the performance, the genius of the script or the warm welcome at the wonderful Hackney Showrooms, we guarantee you’re in for a fantastic night.
Frau Welt plays at the Hackney Showroom until 21 October, details here.