By sheer fluke, I’ve seen two late shows that spring from a similar base. If Chase Paradise was a show to bring your blokes to, then Alexandra Hines’ IM.Mortal feels like the show I’d want young women to see for its scathing portrayal of celebrity worship and lifestyles.
It’s not quite as brash as Paradise, but the start is not dissimilar. Following a very personal meet and greet by Hines upon our entry into what is probably the smallest venue in the Festival, she launches into the first of several songs for the night (no, it’s not in my mind at least, a “musical”). Fuck Me Like the Patriarchy is a funny, confronting song with breathy, ultra processed singing and razor sharp lyrics.
It’s also a little more harsh than much of the rest of the show, which tracks an arc from here to a surprisingly poignant finale. IM.Mortal is the story we have all seen/not seen before. A young starlet, Sadie Smith rises from her coven/commune beginnings to become a big star in Estonia, before the first of a series of rehab and other scandals mess with her head and career. Tonight, she’s reemerging as Juniper Wilde, to embrace us, her “Wildlings”, sing us pieces from her new album, some from her back catalogue and to undergo a sort of purification ritual.
The next section is an “old Neighbours audition tape”. It’s cliche of all cliched audition tapes, but Hines is so good in her modesty, shame, fear and disgust that it’s car crashingly compelling. We are in shock. Her summation after is both piercing and funny.
It’s at this point that you really start to sense where this show is going. This is not ribald, raucous humour but dark, thinking, feeling comedy, where a lot of the laughs are nervous and awkward, where there is as much sadness as humour, where it feels disturbingly real.
As the show progresses, Wilde/Smith/Hines leads us deeper and deeper into her psyche. It raises all sorts of identity confusion issues, deals with cultural appropriation and the omnipresent manipulation of young women by the older men who profit from them. This may not sound comedic, but she handles it with that mix of wit, silliness and a sadness that pervades this show. It’s not full of belly laughs, and it is at times confronting. That’s what makes this show so brilliant.
Hines is a fabulous performer. She stays flawlessly within character, alternatively pleading and pleasing, and not letting us see behind that curtain wall at all. The choreography is thorough as she pinches dance moves from Britney Spears, Janet Jackson and more. The grinding, twerking trophes are on show and executed so well as to seem unironic. There is a very funny theft of an old Barry White number to lighten things up when they are getting a tad heavy.
This is an intimate show, with less than 20 or so viewers possible so she connects with all her audience. I was left feeling more moved than amused and I loved it. It’s great to see a show that has layers of humour and meaning that reverberate later. I feel fortunate these last few days to have seen a number of completely different, yet all brilliant shows. I can’t quite believe my luck, and cannot recommend IM.Mortal highly enough.