Lorna Irvine reviews a 'flawed but watchable' production.
It's the women who excel in Birds of Paradise's Crazy Jane, the tale penned by Nicola McCartney and directed by Garry Robson.
The legendary Jane Avril was the fin de siecle dancer and muse to painter Toulouse Lautrec. Weighing just five stone as a young teenager, Avril experienced fits and shaking yet escaped child prostitution and horrific probings, sexual and otherwise, from asylums where the diagnosis was hysteria, supposedly cured by masturbation.
Such awful experiences shaped Avril, toughening her resolve to find something to calm her nerves. She studied ballet and eventually became the toast of the Moulin Rouge.
Rachel Drazek and Pauline Knowles, playing respectively the younger and older Jane, are heart-rending, dancing Janice Parker's wild sensual choreography to a soundtrack by Scottish hip-hop band Hector Bizerk.
Yet there is a strange disconnect between the patriarchal and maternal abuse Avril suffered, and the ribald comedy presented by Moulin Rouge emcee Harold Zidler (a campy, likeable George Drennan, clearly also having fun in multiple roles) in a cabaret, not cabinet, of curiosities.
Such a distinct contrast makes for rather uncomfortable viewing, never quite reaching the highs and lows it strives for.
Ultimately though, Avril is depicted as a survivor, never a victim--a totem of self-determinism and feminist agency in a tough time.
Knowles in particular is superb, and she is strongly supported by impish, bawdy Caroline Parker as The Glutton, a jealous dancer.
Flawed but watchable, and Jessica Brettle and Sergey Jakovsky's set and lighting looks gorgeous, evoking Paris at its most enigmatic.
Touring Scotland until June 13th