I went and took photographs of this show; so I declare that I know the core creative team who present The Mata Hari Project (TMHP) and have professional associations with them; I could say it is a fabulous show and leave it at that but there’s a little more I will say. I watched from up in the technical area trying to quietly take the photographs you see on the page here.
My perspective of watching through a camera frame obviously distracts from the complete immersion in the theatrical energy of the piece. I wouldn’t try and offer a great deal of commentary or review on all the characters or any minute details because I was watching as a photographer first; although having watched through the lens I was very impressed by the precision displayed in the details of costume and performance.
Bianca Sheedy is Mata Hari, accompanied by Musical Director pianist Pat Wilson one of the best piano accompanists in the country in my opinion. Adrian Barnes Directs this Adelaide fringe show billed as The Mata Hari Project, he and Gerhard Ruediger provide some voice overs.
TMHP is authentic fringe material; don’t misunderstand what I mean by ‘fringe’ it is not scruffy or rough at the edges in fact it is very distinguished, poised, elegant and mature. It is still going through metamorphosis structurally as a work of art like every other piece of musical theatre ever created.
I like this type of material during a Fringe Festival in Adelaide, it has always been around. New musical works being shown for the first time, much like off-Broadway runs or out of town runs you may read about or see in Hollywood movies about Broadway and the great tradition of musical theatre.
Centerlink the Musical and Wolf Creek The Musical have had good runs in Fringe and different songwriters, troubadours if you will, often present new song and story concepts during fringe; I love it.
I remember a local musical shows Jack The Ripper directed by John Noble of Fringe the TV Series and Lord of the Rings Trilogy doing great business out at the City of Elizabeth thirty-five years ago and the team behind this work, Barnes and Wilson have both contributed stellar new musical work in the past; newcomer Sheedy will be picking up a priceless seasoning from these two masters.
Adelaide’s Cabaret Fringe Festival usually features shows that are trying something different with cabaret. TMHP is experiencing being placed in front of an audience for the first time after a process of development. Like any new work it needs a platform to be on. It needs a festival to develop a relationship with the audience it finds.
The Fringe Festival always has a lot of experimental material, pushing various boundaries: presentation, interaction, venue choices many things; makes it arresting, fabulous and appealing.
TMHP fits into the Cabaret section of the overall Fringe program but it could justifiably sit in the Theatre genre as well. For a first outing in front of an audience a cabaret audience will be satisfied, but I can see more coming from the work they’ve achieved so far.
I believe TMHP is taking the first step; clearly it will one day get up, strut, possibly even toss in a high kick here or there but right now it’s finding its feet. I’ve been working on musicals and cabarets for a while (yes I’m an old fart) this production is at a crossroad; the usual panache displayed by Barnes is evident and TMHP is a show to be enjoyed as it stands, in a venue that allows a little more intimacy and dare I say interaction. The work researching Mata Hari, mining her words to construct a fascinating mosaic has paid off. A story about showbiz, romance, war, service, servitude and death; she was shot as a spy.
Barnes brings a lot of narrative to life by introducing different characters and insights. Jenn Havelberg is behind the Costume/Concept in TMHP and these elements work very well.
Sheedy transforms between characters deftly supported by costume and musical choices, singing passionately bringing a powerful set of contrasts into play. Her performance is mesmerising at times I found it very rich and mature. Where I felt a lacking was in the razzle dazzle department and the slip off your chair factor; Sheedy is sexy but she is yet to precisely nail that Andy Warhol Marylin Monroe make love to the camera sex goddess on the head.
Give her time I say she will. I’m referring to the titillation level I guess. There is such dignity in the way Hari’s story sits, why she did the things she did, the forces that drove her it is a valuable story, but I wanted a little more contrast with the woman who could stir the loins by raising a veil. Sheedy reminded me of Ingrid Bergman at times although Bergman wasn’t a singer she did cover some of the emotional territory Mata Hari stumbles through towards her potentially David Hicksien end.
Greta Garbo played Mata Hari on film so I suppose I think of some of the iconic images from the nineteen thirties when that film was made. A lot of iconic pop culture images emerged in 1931; Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein monster, the Empire State Building, Garbo as Hari. Once there was a bookshop in Hindley Street called the Third World Bookshop. Up on a mezzanine level you could look through posters and there would always be a poster of Greta Garbo as Mata Hari and she wore a great outfit.
All of the elements work very well except the proscenium arch staging which reflects my personal tastes for this type of musical theatre. It seemed a little like the second act of Funny Girl when there is a lot of drama to fit in after falling in love with the drama queen in act one. It does start with a splashy number and there are some sexy scenes but I wanted a flash more of the seductress.
I longed for her to walk among the people in the room, to be a pleasure parade and cavalcade. Adrian will get so much feedback I’m not going to start to give him notes, I thought everyone did a great job. The singing was fantastic, Bianca has a rich voice with a strong range, songs like Bulletproof and Nobody does it better sit well with I’m shadowing you and Lover undercover. That’s why I say it stands alone as enjoyable entertainment as it is; I expect Mister Barnes will further develop this show and join it with the ranks of others that started in such and such Fringe festival…