You can tell at once that Peter Clements has been honing this character over the past few years. Frau Welt is executed precisely, the performance is tight, the gestures and facial expressions exquisite. Frau may be a large character but there is depth and pathos here. We laugh but we feel more than mirth.
From the moment of her entrance we are captured in her spell. Frau Welt tales the life story of a diva of the theatre (or tee-ay-ter, as Frau says it). Years in the Berliner Ensemble as Mother Courage and Brecht’s mistress; ambitions of Broadway stardom by way of a glomming friendship with one Angela Lansbury… it is also a tale of lost love and secrets. We are captivated, we are won.
Everything about this production is perfection. The sparseness of the stage and props. The deliciously and flawlessly chosen music (including my favourite Judy Garland song, ever), the costume and the wigs. Even though what they have chosen to dress her in must be hotter than hell under those lights.
When Frau Welt makes her entrance in the second act we are faced with a stunning vision, strutting towards us through smoke and techno. Looking spookily like Alla Nazimova in Camille, dressed in silver lurex, this is an image I won’t forget. When I think back on the great theatre I’ve seen in my life, this will be what I remember.
Hackney Showroom was a project launched on a mere 20k, a dream that became a reality of a space for collaboration, development and opportunity for performers and artists and community. It is glorious. Frau Welt is their first in-house production of a full piece of theatre and what a debut. All involved should be rightly proud of this gem. The new Big Space is wonderful. Stark yet welcoming, a classic non-proscenium stage. I fell in love with it at first site. And it’s perfect for such a piece; intimate, comfortable. There’s not a bad seat in the house.
Hackney Showroom have supported and presented countless queer performances and workshops in its short life. This is the kind of space we desperately need and deserve. Be sure to support them by attending performances and other events. You can even pledge donations if you want to contribute even more to this valuable piece of London arts and community life.
Gee but we all had a SWELL time at the Angela Lansbury Night that those Namesake Mermaids threw last week. GOLLY, what a blast. I don’t know Angela. Her Mama Rose is obviously inferior to MINE, but then – HELL – every actress in any role is inferior to The Merm – am I right kids? You bet your sweet fucking asses I am!
Anyway, this is all obviously an out of town tryout. You KNOW they’re just testing the waters and gearing up to doing a whole MONTH of events dedicated to YOURS TRULY. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! But they are, right? I’ll phone my agent and get the low down for ya on THAT! HAHAHAHAHAHA!
So, what else has been going on in the World of Merm? I know you’re all DYING to know, aren’t ya? Well, I hear that those crazy kids Rice and Webber are writing a show for yours truly called COOKED! and I’ll be playing Nigella Lawson. You can see it, right? Won’t even have to get a new hairdo! I told them that I am SHIT in the kitchen but that won’t matter, I’m pure SEX, just like Nige and that’s all that counts. Gonna paint her as the wronged but strong heroine, of course. I know that role by HEART. We’re Team Nigella over here in the office of The Merm and we’re gonna put the record straight. IN SONG!
Well, I gotta go now kids. I’m having lunch with my pal Benay Venuta and the simply GORGEOUS Judy Garland. God I fucking LOVE Judy. She’s a great kid and the only one who can turn the air bluer than YOURS TRULY. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I just hope that crazy broad Jackie Susann doesn’t turn up again. That gal is gaga over me and Judy – can’t blame her, of course. But I just wish she’d CHOOSE who she wants to stalk. I can’t believe she’d choose anyone over me, even a SWELL gal like Judy. I’ll be sure to tell you all about it, kids, you know you can count on THAT.
We Ethel Mermaids bring a lot of different likes to the EM project and there are of course collective fandoms, loves where we are unanimous. We heart Murder, She Wrote and Angela Lansbury. We all came to MSW at different times in our lives and we all love it very, very hard. There is – not surprisingly – quite the camp, cult following for MSW. If you are unfamiliar, along with a recommended viewing any of the millions of episodes repeated on TV every 10 minutes, we would like to be your guides for all things MSW, Jessica Fletcher and Angela Lansbury. May we please direct your attention to (WARNING: explicit material) the sublime Positive Moves (extracts available on youtube)? That in itself could possibly be all you would ever need. But wait – there’s more. There is Murder, She Blogged, which is pretty amazing with pretty extensive breakdowns of the episodes. There is Murder, She Saw: a blog dedicated to the endurance test of one woman watching every episode in one marathon session. There was one golden week in 2009 that cartoonist Timothy Winchester dedicated to MSW art and toonage, and it was so brilliant and so popular that he repeated the triumph in 2010.
And then… (sigh) …and then there is something so fabulous, so perfect, so totally MSW in spirit and in thoroughness that when we discovered it we were floored. Then we picked ourselves up off the floor and ran – RAN to its author and said: talk to us. And what is this treasure trove? It is Exploring Jessica Fletcher’s Closet in which the wonderful Lau painstakingly catalogues the best outfits from each MSW and then researches where you can find matching items and BECOME Jessica for your very self. We did not need to ask ‘why?’ Such a question is unnecessary in the face of such beauty. But we did need to know more about Ms. Lau and her incredible blog…
Do you remember the first time you saw MSW?
When I was very little we did not have a television. I never missed it, as we were always busy doing so many other things, but when we finally got one, the whole family quickly got charmed. My mum loved murder mystery books and was an avid fan of Agatha Christie. My first memories of MSW are episodes watched with her on our bulky colour TV. It was like opening a magic window to a world we never knew before and we liked it very much.
What is it about MSW that you love?
MSW’s success, in my opinion, is largely down to the brilliant portrait of Jessica played by Angela Lansbury. Of course the episodes are well written, and even if they always follow a similar pattern, they always manage to be surprising and original (something that many TV series today fail to achieve). All the characters are personable and lovable without being too cheesy, but needless to say, Jessica is the reason why people, still today, keep re-watching this series over and over again.
I think Jessica is loved by so many people of all ages, genders and sexuality because she is a flag-bearer for anyone who defies stereotypes. Any label you try to pin on her (OAP? Widow? Small town writer? Sleuth?) she manages to turn around and prove you wrong. I think the secret of her appeal is in her being so very human, her humanity expressed by the multifaceted aspects of her personality. She is clever, but not boring. She is classy but not snob. She is mature, but not old. She is obviously wealthy, but not spoiled. And she is sexy but not in the plastic way that models from magazines are trying to sell us as the only accepted canon: she has the charm of a real woman, a woman with brains and guts, as well as a creative mind and a humble spirit. I think this is what I like the most about her: she is fragile but fearless, and lives her life in her own terms. She is someone who has suffered and come through it, a woman who went on with her life even if things did not go perfectly to plan. She could have spent time at home crippled by her loneliness, missing her husband and regretting not having children of her own, but that would have been a very different show, and quite a depressing one! Instead, she makes the most of the cards that life handed her. She never lets anyone talk her down and is very confident, but in a world where standing up for yourself seem to be synonym of walking over others, she proves that treating people with kindness and respect does not necessarily makes you weaker. What attracted me to her fashion style, specifically, is that she always looks at ease with herself. She oozes confidence without being aloof, and yet her outfits are reasonably easy to put together and not necessarily expensive. My goal is to obtain that effortless style that comes from knowing what works for your body type and just feel that you can forget about looking in the mirror, because real class comes from the heart.
How did the blog come about?
In January this year I was in between jobs and I stumbled upon reruns of MSW in the early morning slot. One day I saw Jessica wearing a beautiful dress and I went online looking for a website giving fashion tips inspired by the series. To my amazement I could not find any. I started to do some research for my own pleasure and then I thought: what if?
What is your process?
I usually watch every episode on my laptop, stopping the DVD to take screenshots when I see Jessica wearing a new outfit. I then research on internet, looking on dozens of websites – from high street stores to vintage and second hand stores – trying to find something as similar as possible to what she is wearing. Whenever possible, I try to identify the original brands. I then put all together and write the accompanying text. It is real fun but quite a time consuming task. Inexplicably the most mundane of items are usually the hardest to find. I think finding the right pieces is mostly down to patience and sheer luck, but I truly enjoy my research and I am honestly learning a lot about fashion in the process.
What has the response been like?
The response from readers has been overwhelmingly good and I am really humbled by all the lovely things that people wrote to me, both via email and on the blog. I am not on Facebook or Twitter, so I have not advertised the blog in any way: I did not even tell any of my friends about it until recently! That is why I am so happy that so many took the time to read it. I am really amazed by the amount of people who found out about it just by word of mouth and I am really happy if people have fun reading it as much as I have fun writing it.
If you had to pick one outfit that you’d most like to own and wear, what would it be?
I love the dress that Jessica wears in the cross-over episode with Magnum PI! I even put it in the header of my blog. I think it is so simple and yet so very elegant and I can’t wait to get to that episode to be able look for something similar. I love Jessica’s style in general, and since the beginning of this blog I started wearing scarves and belts, something I never really did before. Now when I go shopping I can’t help by thinking: Would Jessica buy this?
What has had the biggest response?
So far, definitely the fish cardigan. I was incredibly lucky to find the name of the original maker, as usually I really struggle to find perfect matches, let alone the real thing! It was also really great that Mary Maxim, the company that produced that original knitting pattern in the 80s, stumbled upon my blog and decided to make it available again for purchase. The response from readers has been amazing and I know of a couple of people who are in the process of knitting it as we speak. I really hope they will send me the photos once finished: I would love to publish them on the blog if they will allow me to do so!
What would you do if you got to meet Angela?
I have never had the luck to meet Angela Lansbury or even see her live in theatre. If I could meet her, I would probably be star-struck and unable to say a word, but a braver version of me would love to interview her to ask about her take on fashion. I would love to know how much say she had in deciding what to wear on MSW and what are her favourite style secrets. In a perfect world, I would then invite her for dinner at my home, together with my family and friends, as I think she would be the most interesting and charming dinner guest ever.
Do you prefer the Cabot Cove episodes or those set in the Big Cities and Exotic Locales?
The Cabot Cove episodes. Maybe just because they are the ones I have the most memories with my mum.
Do you have a favourite episode?
I thought about this very hard, and it is a difficult choice. I love that episode in two parts (in series 3, I think) where she dresses up with an improbable flashy outfit and puts on a fake accent to get into a circus where one of her relatives is hiding. I like to think I would have done the same and I can’t wait to blog about it! In the first series, I love the episode where Jessica has to fight an allegedly self-driving car. She even gets to play arcade games and it makes me giggle every time I see it. I am actually re-watching the series as I blog so I am sure there are many great episodes that I haven’t seen yet, or that I forgot all about, so maybe ask me again in a little while.
One of my fave things is the outfits that some of the guest stars wear – SO MANY SEQUINS!!! Have you ever thought about expanding and doing posts about other character’s outfits or the glam guest stars?
Yes, I definitely thought about it. I am planning to do a Grady Fletcher special and maybe also a ‘bad girls’ special, as two lovely blog’s reader suggested these ideas. Hopefully I will manage to find the time to put something together soon.
Tell us a bit about yourself outside of your MSW world
I just moved a couple of months ago from London to the Emirates, where I am currently overdosing on good food and trying not to go full-lobster in the heat. I have an amazingly supportive partner, brother and friends. I love animals, baking ugly cookies, travelling and taking photos of skyscrapers. Writing is my passion but it is a bit of a mirage most of the time. I never thought I would write about fashion, then Jessica happened and my life has not been the same since.
This blog had a very positive impact on my life. I already consider it an incredibly successful venture, mostly because I met so many lovely people through it, but also because it made me more knowledgeable and more confident in my fashion choices: even if I haven’t obtained my goal yet, (‘becoming a classy lady!’), I still have 11 series and a half to get there!