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Chambre Noire review at Jacksons Lane, London – ‘frustratingly shallow’

Plexus Polaire's Chambre Noire at Jacksons Lane. Photo: Benoit Schupp
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Chambre Noire is a grim one-woman puppet show about the death of Valerie Jean Solanas, the radical feminist who famously shot Andy Warhol in 1968 after a dispute over a film script.

Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, Solanas served prison time and continued to promote her SCUM manifesto – which urged the overthrow of the patriarchy, money system and elimination of the male sex – until she died of pneumonia in a San Francisco hotel room aged 52.

Solanas was a person on the margins – of mainstream society, of the feminist movement, of Warhol’s fashionable Factory clique – so there’s a certain poetic justice in placing this disenfranchised figure centre stage. But there’s not much beyond the neon-tinged spotlight and spectacle.

Creator Yngvild Aspeli manipulates a jittery life-sized Solanas puppet around her sordid hallucinatory deathbed, variously emerging from behind the mattress as a predatory tufted Warhol and Solanas’ Marilyn Monroe-obsessed mother, who turned a blind eye to her husband’s sexual abuse of the young Valerie.

While the puppet has a certain knock-kneed vulnerability and crop-haired verisimilitude, it’s hard to engage with all this imaginatively. The experience is almost prurient, the serving up of marionette mental illness and sexual debasement (Solanas, a lesbian, worked as a prostitute with male clients) as a dubious entertainment with little real exploration of the character, her philosophies, her motivations.

Musician Ane Marthe Sorlien Holen accompanies the action with pretentious electro: synths, screechy vocals and ominous percussive kerplunks. It’s a hollow tribute to a tragic life.

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Verdict
A show about Warhol’s would-be assassin Valerie Jean Solanas that’s frustratingly shallow despite sophisticated puppetry
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