Review: Showwomen at Jacksons Lane – ★★★★★
Marisa Carnesky leads an inspirational group of Showwomen, telling the untold herstory of four pioneering women from the early days of variety performance.
Inspired by 1940’s body magic star Koringa, 1930’s pioneer clown Lulu Adams, 1920’s female dare-devil Marjorie Dare and 1880’s teeth hanging aerialist superstar Miss La La, a contemporary group of equally impressive performers seamlessly combine daring artistry with history lesson in the fascinating and fantastic Showwomen.
Marisa Carnesky has put together a perfect cast of master performers for this 75 minute marvel: she is joined by hair-hanger extraordinaire Fancy Chance, sword swallower Livia Kojo Alour and physical and fire artist Lucifire.
Each takes the lead telling the story of one of those amazing women from the late 19th and early 20th century. We learn from Kojo Alour about Koringa’s incredible crocodile hypnotism act, but also the way that her dark skin was likely exploited as mysterious exoticism; we take a trip into Art History as Fancy Chance teaches us about Degas-subject Miss La La; and we’re treated to a magnificent piece of archive footage as 1920s stuntwoman Marjorie Dare reflects on the real dangers of her work.
Carnesky relates how 1930s clown Lulu Adams found herself essentially playing drag king to fit in to her male-dominated field, fulfilling the ‘show must go on’ mantra when she wows crowds in New York the day after her husband dies of a heart attack. It’s a recurring theme, women very much doing it for – and by – themselves, fighting for the respect and rewards which seem to come easier for their male colleagues.
Our present-day hosts do not gloss over the continuing difficulties, but there is certainly a sense that these are empowered individuals in control of their own destinies. Kojo Alour speaks movingly about no longer needing to take the biggest risks – she’s earned her stripes, and no longer needs to put it all on the line, though she clearly still enjoys wowing crowds. Her sword ladder act is impressive enough, but she elicits a wonderful audience reaction for her glass walking act towards the end of the show.
Similarly, Lucifire and Fancy Chance perform spectacular routines, the former whip-cracking with the added spectacle of fire, the latter giving a beautiful, balletic hair-hang performance which gets perhaps the biggest cheer of the night.
It’s a perfectly weighted and paced show, balancing powerpoint lecture with entertaining exhibitions of style, skill, grace and no shortage of bravery. There’s humour too, plenty of it, and an all-embracing warmth.
Like the best families, Carnesky & co make all feel welcome and part of the clan – never preaching but generously sharing, and throwing in some top-notch, intimate and memorable performances.
I am Joint Editor at To Do List. I like: nice pubs, film marathons, not doing real marathons, bad comedy, plays/musicals with shorter second halves, and the Oxford comma.