Margo: Half Woman, Half Beast
Venue: Assembly Rooms – Drawing Room
Melinda Hughes steps into the role of French chanteuse and cabaret star Margo Lion in Margo: Half Woman, Half Beast. Sarah Sigal directs this glimpse into Lion’s life in post-World War One Berlin mixing dramatic monologue and music as Margo celebrates the decadence and debauchery of the Weimar Republic whilst foreshadowing the rise of Hitler’s National Socialist movement.
Weimar Berlin became a cultural hub in 1920s and early-1930s Europe attracting Jewish intellectuals and homosexuals thanks to its relaxed laws. Women made up much of the nation’s workforce and although this was a time of great financial uncertainty, it was a metropolis for artistic freedom and equal opportunities. Margo as a protagonist successfully personifies the fiery excitement of Weimar Berlin – something which is further enhanced in original musical number ‘Here in Berlin‘ and showstopping renditions of ‘I Am a Vamp‘ and ‘Kleptomania’.
Margo: Half Woman, Half Beast is laced with anecdotes about Marlene Dietrich (Margo’s lover and friend) and her rise to mainstream international fame in ‘The Blue Angel’, Margo’s marriage to Marcellus Schiffer (whose depression and suicide are referenced) and the macabre jokes Marcellus would play on her (cancelling plans citing she had suffered a heart attack). We’re transported back to Weimar Berlin not just by the impressively performed musical numbers, but through these period anecdotes and musings. Yet, Weimar Germany cannot be depicted without reflecting on the troubling rise of the fascist right in the early 1930s and Hughes’ script dips into this in a sombre reference to the storming of the premier of Hundert Meter Glück by Hitler’s Brownshirts.
Hughes’ musical choices are cleverly reflective of the shifting tone of the historical period – from the optimism, liberation and playfulness of Weimar Berlin as an artistic haven (e.g. homosexual freedoms in ‘Das Lila Lied‘) to the unnerving dread of Nazism (original number ‘Where a Stolperstein Stands’). These songs are delivered with Hughes’ impressive vocal ability where her background as an operatic star is ever apparent. Hughes fills these songs with emotion – whether that be a cheeky playful humour or heart-wrenching sorrow, she ensures we are fully invested in Margo’s journey through Weimar Berlin. These musical numbers are further enriched through Michael Roulston’s piano accompaniment and Alana Dawes‘ skills on the double bass.
Margo: Half Woman, Half Beast is an enthralling love letter to the decadence and debauchery of Weimar Berlin. Hughes impressively delivers original songs and cabaret classics with quick wit and heartfelt sentiment resulting in an arresting and memorable experience.