Review: Fempire: Cleo, Theo & Wu by Kirsten Vangsness⭐⭐⭐⭐

New Writing

Fempire: Cleo, Theo & Wu by Kirsten Vangsness

Assembly Rooms 20:15

 Aug 16-17, 19, 22-23

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

Such is the reputation of the Fringe that there has been a trend for performers more often associated with Hollywood productions to look further afield to establish their ability as more than mouths to speak the words of others while hitting a key light and it would be cynical to be less than welcoming to any who wish to present their art to a wider audience.

Best known to international audiences as FBI technical analyst Penelope Garcia across an astonishing fifteen seasons of Criminal Minds, Kirsten Vangsness has gone further this season, bringing to the city two shows she has written, the solo show Mess and the ensemble piece Cleo, Theo & Wu, the two parts of which form her Fempire duology.

Tamara Perry, Jenny Flack, Cat Chengery and Hiwa Chow Elms are the two Cleopatras, the first and the seventeenth queens of that name, Theodora, Empress of the Byzantine Empire and Wu, ruler of the Tang Dynasty, women misrepresented or removed entirely from history by men, while Vangsness is Lucy, a modern woman lost in modern quandries.

Named for the early hominid considered one of the ancestral mothers of our species, with cosmic song and on feathered wing, the two Cleos, Theo and Wu visit Lucy to imbue her with their infinite feminine energy, granting her their superpowers and wisdom, entering into her consciousness to become her intimates, guiding her through her life and the failings of their own.

Their downfalls having been meditated by the men in their lives, they are represented by Justin Okin and Gene “JJ” Barrera in a series of rotating roles in past and present from Mark Antony and Caesar as well as Lucy’s current potential lovers Alex and Ivan, while elegantly bridging the gap between male and female power and presence is Joel Schers’ ephemeral but enlightened Glock.

An empowering and uplifting feminist fairytale, in her pillarbox red dress – with pockets! – Vangsness is the eye of the hurricane who brings focus to this restless raw energy, vulnerable and funny as Lucy sees through the eyes of history even as she tries to deny and rewrite her own past when what she should be doing is finding the strength, like her creator, to write a new future.

Michael Flett