Edinburgh Fringe 2015
“Join a woman – and her multiple personalities – on a journey through the twisted corridors of her mind…Set in an imaginary mental asylum, Mad Women in my Attic! is a collection of show tunes, folk and cabaret songs, which celebrate the mentally unstable women in music and theatre, with multiple costume changes, lots of humour, seduction and dramatic moments…”
First entering St John’s Church, I wonder how anyone could fill a space of this kind. Above us high arches stretch from wall to wall and beautifully crafted stain glass windows provide an impressive backdrop which dominates the stage. The setting is so dramatic I feel it must be impossible for anyone to compete. Such thoughts are quickly dispelled however as Monica Salvi starts her first number. Live piano accompaniment begins to play, a voice pierces the air and quickly assumes control of the Church. Strangely, no one is to be seen and the audience twist and turn in the aisles as they try to locate the origins of this powerful sound. Monica rewards our curiosity as she slowly emerges from the pulpit and descends upon the audience. It is an impressive start, and one that sets the tone for the rest of the performance through which a succession of songs are delivered with forceful energy and passion. In between, we are treated to a variety of costume changes, witty audience interaction and snippets of story telling which make for an afternoon of brilliant entertainment.
The overall conceit of the piece offers a firm basis from which Salvi is able to oscillate between a cabaret/theatre style mode. As fellow inmates, we sit and watch her perform songs and discuss her life and career before incarceration. The content is clearly a mixture of autobiographical material and fictional writing which has been reworked into an exaggerated pastiche of the mad women Salvi has been expected to play throughout her career. The result is both funny and entertaining, but it also communicates a very important message about the type casting that ensues in the theatre and film industry as well as the restrictive roles that women of such talent are often expected to play. An significant point is made about the writer’s (usually male) fascination with the figure of ‘the mad woman’ and the idea is well illustrated as Salvi discusses characters such as Sweeney Todd’s Joanne and Jane Eyre’s Bertha Maison – whilst singing songs from a number of these different musicals.
At times, the audience interaction feels slightly strained. However, this is mainly due to the space and time of the performance. In a more intimate, cabaret-style setting Salvi would have had no trouble engaging reluctant members of the audience. I felt the show could have been slightly shorter and perhaps more dynamic in terms of pace and level. The high energy, whilst effective overall, might have been more engrossing had it been contrasted with moments of lightness. This may have created more variety and greater impact for the last part of the performance.
Despite such criticism, this is undoubtedly a great show. I would highly recommend it for people who enjoy cabaret, musicals and anyone who fancies an afternoon of big powerful songs to sing along to!