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Justin Murray


Tragic Scenes of Legendary women where snakes were (kind of) present Tragic Scenes of Legendary Women Where Snakes Were (Kind Of) Present is a clown piece devised by Gaulier-trained cabaret performers Monia Baldini and Lucia Peña Pen. We see meet star attraction and impresario Nina Divina (Baldini), who’s here to take us on a journey through a series of ancient or mythological women whose stories also involve snakes: Medusa, Cleopatra, Eve.

She’s supported by her assistant and comic foil Lucia Bombilla (Peña), who faithfully brings up the rear and carries the snakes (apart from the ones which haven’t been ordered from the Amazon yet).

It’s the sort of absurd cabaret-style piece where logic doesn’t really play a role - are we travelling back in time to meet these characters? is Nina playing them all? does it matter? It also doesn’t try to make a point, and it’s hard to see if this is an asset or a stumbling block: trying to say something about the oppression of women in history would seem a little oversimplistic, but it is a little hard at times to work out why all this is happening and what the central strand of the show is. Like most clown, it’s probably best not to overanalyse it.

Overall the purpose is to parody our obsession with, and veneration of, the classical past, and to act as a vehicle for the Baldini - Peña double act: one of them heightened and pompous, the other deliberately graceless and pragmatic. It’s a strong relationship which yields great moments of comedy: highlights include some very witty ‘translating’ from hieroglyphs, and a very good ‘losing’ a live asp bit.

From a politico-comical point of view, It’s great to hear non-native English speaking voices very at home with their own voices on this stage - and comfortably getting comedy out of their own accents without a trace of self-deprecation. Other elements don’t bear such obvious fruit: we’re split into two teams for a quiz, which doesn’t lead to anything, and the Eve segment loses its way a little bit.

This is very much a work-in-progress and a first attempt at sewing the material together into an hour-long show. I actually saw some of it at a cabaret event a few months ago and found it funnier then - not just because I hadn’t seen it before, but because it seemed to land better in the more fluid, rough-and-ready context of a bar, where their rough-and-readiness is a strength, not a weakness.

It’s fairly obvious there’s still more material to be found (although they may run out of scenes of tragic women where snakes are also present) but in any future performance context it would be good to play to their strengths and stick to the cabaret vibe as much as possible. That said, everyone seemed to find it very funny.

This was only on for 2 nights at the Blue Elephant Theatre as part of Wild Shenanigans Festival, which runs all this week. But perhaps you can catch it sometime again in the future.