Herstory – Leading Ladies | Imogen Kelly

Inspired by the rumours and inaccuracies circulated about powerful women, burlesque star Imogen Kelly mixes satire, comedy, and burlesque to spread the stories of their successes. With the help of her psychic assistant, Kelly summons the spirits of women through time to challenge the patriarchal lens of their remembrance.

The audience enters a den of mystery to be greeted by a prim housemaid guarding a table of provocative props. Through the haze and spooky green lighting, the stage is set for a seance with a crystal ball and shimmery fabric hiding the adventures to come. The host for the evening, an experienced clairvoyant who will guide the evening’s conversations with women from history with crucial questions about their lives.

Imogen Kelly appears from the afterlife in various guises including Queen Victoria, Marie Antoinette, and Princess Diana. As each woman, Kelly uses comedy and scandalous audience participation to help Queen Victoria learn to insert a tampon, correct the rumours about Catherine the Great’s death and companionship with her horse, and perform an inventive remix of Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech.

Her costumes are elaborate and wonderfully representative of the impersonated’s eras with all the quirks particular to each woman. Her burlesque routines similarly evoke their stories and personalities including a whipped cream cake for Marie Antoinette to roll around in and Princess Diana’s Godzilla-esque take-over of London. Kelly is a skilful performer with high energy and confidence that easily engages the audience.

The construct of the evening as a duo with Kelly carrying the majority of the performance struggles to maintain momentum for the simple fact of pacing. The narration and time-biding between Kelly’s scenes quickly becomes tedious as the audience waits for costume changes with a premise too thin to sustain attention or excitement. With more relief from another impersonator or a back-up act, then the production wouldn’t have felt so slow and stilted.

History is a precarious process for women as they are erased, forgotten, and rewritten. Kelly’s attempts to honour the powerful women failed by the history books was a light and risqué way to learn something new about familiar female faces.

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