Theatre and musical reviews: Mata Hari: Female Spy | Mata Hari – The Musical
Edinburgh Festival

Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: Mata Hari: Female Spy and Mata Hari – The Musical, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Fiona Shepherd

Mata Hari: Female Spy
ZOO (Venue 124)

Mata Hari – The Musical
Spotlites (Venue 278)

The legend of Mata Hari – pioneering exotic Javanese dancer and double agent, executed by firing squad in 1917 – has inspired several films and fuelled the archetype of the femme fatale. But using her own words, Mata Hari: Female Spy builds a more rounded and grounded version of her life story, one in which the woman born Margaretha Zelle in the Netherlands maintains her innocence on the spying charges and promotes herself as an artiste and a mother.

Solo performer Katharine Hurst is not entirely convincing as either a daring dancer nor a loving, bereaved mum, but that is perhaps the point, that there was a gulf between not just the public perception of Mata Hari and the real Zelle but that this “orchid in a field of dandelions”, doggedly seeking adventure and status, was the product, even the victim, of a pretty punishing series of circumstances from her early teens onwards.

Most of this interesting biographical detail is junked in Mata Hari – The Musical for a farcical approach to her life and times, both deliberately and accidentally so. So random is the script and scatty the delivery that the cast could almost be making it up as they go along.

This Mata Hari is superficially portrayed as an airhead gold-digger (“one day my prince will come… all over my face,” she trills) with just enough nous to try to flirt her way out of a conviction – when that strategy fails, there are no tears for her fate.

The songs are perfunctory and the dancing little more than a couple of cursory pirouettes – you can sing for your seven veils. The only hope here is to entirely embrace the stupidity of the proceedings, but even the cast don’t look like they are having much fun.

Mata Hari: Female Spy until 30 August; 2:20pm
Mata Hari – The Musical until 27 August; 8:50pm

Published in The Scotsman on 24 August 2015

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