REVIEW: MADONNA OR WHORE? (VAULT Festival) ★★★★

THE MADONNA WHORE COMPLEX. THE SONGS OF MADONNA.

The premise of ‘Madonna Or Whore?’ is an appealing one if you are attracted to both pop philosophy and the hits of the Italian American diva herself. It’s presented as part of the Vault Festival, with over three hundred new shows running from January 24th to March 18th under Waterloo station; the whole venue has a fantastic vibe, evoking the best bits of the Edinburgh fringe and combining bars, chill out areas (one with a very cool Moroccan feel) and food with theatrical offerings.

In this show, Holly Morgan mixes a half-remembered university lecture about Sigmund Freud’s Madonna/Whore complex with seemingly ever more timely questions about misogyny from biblical times to present day. She has a hugely engaging stage persona which she uses to tell the stories of various controversial women from history, through comedy, drama and high energy pop hits. Covering early woman in Eve and Adam’s first wife Lilleth, past the sadly overshadowed victims of the ever tourist drawing Jack the Ripper and into modern day, Holly draws the audience along the journey and is ably supported by her fiancée and Freud-channelling Tom Moores. She highlights the ever present conflict between pure and evil – the struggle of the woman only really being perfect when she is in a particular prescribed box with her choices limited – and sets the original Madonna of Nazareth against the pop icon Ciccone as a handy reference point (complete with audience participation ‘Ready Steady Cook’ style).

The result is not polished but endlessly engaging and shamelessly entertaining. We stay with Holly even when things meander a little off course – the children’s historical theatre story which is woven into the main action is a little disjointed, and whilst the payoff in the final message feels worth it, it makes for a slightly clunky inclusion. The Divas montage is a shining standout piece as some famous (and perfectly mimicked) voices pull off a refreshed version of Vogue, and by the end the audience are up singing, dancing, joining in the action on stage and, most importantly, feeling like one invincible group, led by Holly (or ‘Nighthag’ herself). It also left me looking up vogue-ing lessons for my husband after Tom pulled out some unexpected moves…

Overall this show is great fun – a brilliant night out that manages the, by no means easy, task of delivering a truly feel-good, almost therapeutic, performance whilst conveying the serious message that misogyny is – and always has been – more insidious than many care to admit. Go and see it while you can!

Reviewed by Ana von Dienstag


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