This imagined meeting between activist Valerie Solanas and singer Nico asks what might have happened if two female visionaries with very different methods had locked horns in Polly Wiseman’s Femme Fatale. With women’s ownership of their stories, their image and their bodies still firmly on the news agenda, Femme Fatale draws parallels between 60s feminism and today, and throws into relief how much further there is to go.
1968. New York. Nico, singer with The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol’s Superstar, waits to shoot his latest movie when her Chelsea Hotel room is invaded by radical feminist Valerie Solanas. She wants the celebrity’s help to spread her message of female revolution, but Nico only craves drugs to insulate her from her pain. A darkly comic battle begins, between two iron-willed opponents who could change their futures, if only they would become allies. New writing meets live music and super-8 film in a cabaret set up for an evening of intimate theatre, with an opportunity for audiences at the venues and online to help write a new feminist Manifesto for today. Valerie Solanas was a radical feminist, best known for writing the SCUM Manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men), and attempting to murder Andy Warhol in 1968. In 2018, Lena Dunham played her onscreen in an episode of American Horror Story and her legacy is being re-evaluated by a new generation of feminists.
Nico (Christa Päffgen) was a German singer-songwriter, model, and actress. She appeared in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls and sang with The Velvet Underground. As a solo artist, she earned cult fame as the Godmother of Goth, influencing Siousxie Sioux, Bjork and Bat for Lashes, amongst others. Both women died in 1988.
Writer and performer Polly Wiseman says: “I’m bored to death by likeable female characters – which is why I wanted to write about Teutonic junkie Nico and ‘crazed feminazi’ Valerie Solanas. Both revolutionaries, in their different ways, their legacies have been all but ignored in favour of more compliant and prettily-packaged women. But thirty years after they both died, their work continues to inspire many artists and activists. As hilarious as they were uncompromising: their views on men, music, fame and feminism are outrageous and deadpan, tender and truculent. More than a hundred years since women got the vote, recent events in America and at home remind us that our right to control our bodies and our stories is still not a given. The time seems ripe for this reimagining of two female pop culture icons at the epicenter of 60s cool, battling for control of their own destinies.”
Polly Wiseman plays Nico in Femme Fatale.
Omnibus Theatre, 1 Clapham Common Northside, London SW4 0QW until 28th October. Times:7.30pm Tues-Sat, 4pm Sun. Admission: £16 (£13 conc.) Phone: 020 7498 4699