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Frau Welt review at Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh – ‘a forceful performance but fuzzy storytelling’

Peter Clements as Frau Welt. Photo: Holly Revell, Aine Flanagan Peter Clements as Frau Welt. Photo: Holly Revell, Aine Flanagan

A figure sits shrouded in shadow wearing a dress of black chiffon and jet beads. This is Frau Welt, a woman who has lived her life on the peripheries of the theatre world, from Weimar Germany to Broadway, always on the fringes, never in the spotlight. Her career has brought her into contact with Bertolt Brecht, Helene Weigel and, later, Angela Lansbury in her Broadway heyday. But she never became a star.

Placing drag cabaret in a narrative context Peter Clements and Oliver Dawe’s play sweeps across theatrical history in an appealing way. Clements, lips permanently puckered, voice contorted, hands aloft, ropes in audience members to play Brecht and Lansbury, clambering into the crowd in order to do so. He lip syncs to numbers from Sweet Charity and delivers a performance of considerable size and force, edged with melancholy.

Dawe’s production is atmospherically lit by Alex Fernandes. But the merging of cabaret and narrative doesn’t come off. The material just isn’t robust enough. The storytelling is fuzzy and some of the audience interaction feels a bit awkward and uncontrolled.

The final revelation, the shedding of layers of costume and artifice, is striking but abrupt, a sudden shift in tone that feels unearned.

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A forceful performance that doesn’t transcend an awkward mixture of drag and narrative