The Passion of Lady Vendredi at the Soho Theatre
For anyone out there who believes a critic’s job is easy, the task is clear: go and see The Passion of Lady Vendredi and try to describe this unique show in words. The Marmite rule might genuinely apply to this experimental performance piece; unhip reviewers will be the only ones who try to suppress a visceral emotional reaction to the bizarre experience Vendredi offers for the sake of a more sober stance. Sober may be the operative word as if any theatrical show would benefit from an uninhibited audience it would be this one. After all, there are no seats, the lights are lurid and the performers totally unconcerned by notions of personal space – whether it’s feeding people popcorn or draping their legs around them. Those of a shy and sensitive persuasion will not feel entirely comfortable here, at a show that demands participants, not spectators.
All jesting aside, however, there is much going on in this difficult-to-categorise production. Lady Vendredi, the eponymous alter-ego of Nwamdo Ebizie, has been publicised as “a mythopoetic super-heroine and voodoo priestess popstar”. Vendredi performs song and dance routines with the help of her troupe of dancers and her band, the Vendettas, who provide a dynamic samba flavour, combining in a cocktail of musical genres and ideologies including Afrofuturism, fourth-wave feminism, traditional rituals, global bass and jazz. Her collaboration with director Dominic Grieve has created a genuinely bohemian extravaganza, alternately sensual and seductive, grotesque and unsettling. It can be overwhelming at points but the more focused parts are hard to forget, such as the climax in which Vendredi performs in reverse minstrel drag.
Vendredi is undoubtedly the main attraction of this sometimes-incoherent show with her effortless charisma, vocal talent and potent sexuality. Yet there’s something unsettling about her emulation of a charismatic cult leader and manipulation of the audience. Vendredi and her performers chose their vocation and they are very good at it, but the pained smiles of some participating audience members suggest the choice is not shared by everyone, rather some are coerced. Certain sequences are clearly aimed at empowering women, but if the method involves having a male stranger touch one’s stomach and repeat the worst thing they ever said to their mother, viewers may wish to seek empowerment via a different route. And if by chance you are a male with an abusive mother, forget it.
All in all, though the performances are deeply committed, the music is immersive and Lady Vendredi is surely one of the most compelling stage performers out there, with a rich, worldly repertoire that means whatever she does next will surely be fascinating.
The Passion of Lady Vendredi is on at the Soho Theatre from 13th until 30th April 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: