Review: Fempire: Mess by Kirsten Vangsness⭐⭐⭐⭐

Theatre (new writing, solo show)

Fempire: Mess by Kirsten Vangsness

Assembly Rooms 20:15

 Aug 18, 21, 24

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

The dramatic music as she arrives onstage cannot disguise or distract from the fact that Kirsten Vangsness is a mess, one sock missing, emotionally volatile, a sum of all the experiences that have made her now half-forgotten, buried or repressed, suddenly remembered and expressed within an hour on stage.

The second part of her Fempire duology performed in alternation with her ensemble piece Cleo, Theo and Wu, Vangsness may have come to realise that her Mess is nothing more than quantum bits, but she feels that her mess is the secret of her success, that those who have been raised by wolves are stronger than those who were coddled.

Her monologue a succession of random, abstract images, fearful and intrusive, there is the sense of a lifetime folded in on itself, the transgressions of childhood for which she blames herself surfacing and overlapping with the present, evolving into something terrible which only she can see but of which she warns the audience.

A cascade of emotion and non-sequential events, like Pinter, this Mess is not so much to be analysed but experienced, a maelstrom of joy and anguish and the imaginary monsters of childhood within the walls while the scant consolations of the past absent themselves, the kittens of comfort notably indifferent, her only defence her conviction of her own worth.

Serving as the companion piece to the marginally more traditional narrative of Cleo, Theo and Wu, where those presences helped empower Vangsness’ alter ego Lucy here she is alone and must work all the harder, both as character and performer, sharing the stage with nobody other than the demons she has brought with her, the berating voices of her past in her head which are never quiet.

Fortunately Vangsness is more than capable, skipping from Pentecostal Fellowship Camp and encounters with Satan to the quantum physics of Einstein and Feynman, “a broken pattern in a kaleidoscope on repeat,” those lessons learned the hard way having taught her the most as she demonstrates how to walk the tightrope balanced between shame and power.

Michael Flett