Mata Hari

Sat 3rd – Sat 24th August 2013


Hazel Rowland

at 00:53 on 17th Aug 2013



Entering the Mood Nightclub’s dark underground basement with its sticky floor quickly makes one apprehensive about the evening’s performance. And one would be right to be so. ‘Mata Hari’ is a one-woman show performed by Aletia Upstairs and tells the true story of the courtesan and exotic dancer accused of espionage during World War One.

Mari Hari’s life story might have been a fascinating one, but unfortunately this retelling is so uninspiring that it becomes incredibly dreary to watch. The show consists purely of Upstairs telling the life story of Mata Hari from the perspective of the courtesan as she awaits her death by firing squad. She occasionally bursts into song or dance, but other than that it is all first-person narrative. This would be fine if Upstairs was a competent narrator. However, she has significant issues in creating sympathy for her character, which should not have been too difficult considering her tragic life-story. Instead, Upstairs’ Mari Hari is so self-centred that she cannot help but profess “I was so beautiful” as well as proudly boasting about her “artistic tendencies.” The death of her son Norman might have fostered some pity for her, but instead she feels overly sorry for herself: “I was so deeply unfortunate.”

Upstairs’ voice might have been a redeeming feature, if her songs had not been so tedious. Several times during the show, supposedly as part of her role as a seductress, she sits on the laps of men in the audience, and sometimes caresses their faces too. They must have felt enormously uncomfortable considering how awkward it was to watch. Although Upstairs admits that Mata Hari had never been a trained dancer (and so by implication, neither was Upstairs), she insists on attempting erotic dancing – and by dancing I mean provocatively swaying her lurid veiled dress around in a rather embarrassing manner.

‘Mari Hari’ is not only dull, but painful to watch too. What should be a sensitive portrayal of the difficulties faced in the protagonist’s life becomes a monologue that portrays her as a vain and selfish woman. It was only after looking Mari Hari up on Wikipedia that I realised that her life-story was a potentially interesting one to tell. Yet this show makes one feel, at best, indifferent to the story of her life.


Victoria Ibbett

at 03:09 on 17th Aug 2013



Mata Hari is a Dutch exotic dancer, “the first in Europe”, who has been unfairly convicted of spying for Germany during the second world war. Awaiting death by firing squad, the anxious Mata Hari reflects on the experiences and decisions that brought her to this point. This one-woman show is a true tale of love and seduction, popularity and poverty, told through monologue, song and dance. Unfortunately, despite all the promise of the story, this is a terrible show.

It was not the actress who lacked talent. In fact, Aletia Upstairs is a formidable singer and can certainly deliver a line. However, she was let down by a poor concept, a dull script, and astoundingly bad direction.

‘Mata Hari’ tells the story of the heroine with the use of dramatic monologue, aided by projections of the real woman’s photographs and letters. Whilst the photographs were certainly beautiful, the actresses’ interaction with this set had the effect of a lecture hall or a documentary. The photographs were projected within an animated book, the pages of which turned as the story progressed. Unfortunately, this was a tacky effect that was off-putting as the focus too often skated from Upstairs to the screens, releasing her from the imperative to tell the story herself, which simply resulted in lazy acting.

The script, too, was poorly conceived. Featuring monologues about the heroine’s various adventures and outbursts into song, this necessitated a strong and confident lead, comfortable in the role and with the attendant drama of the part. However, the script erred into melodrama, and Upstairs did not carry it off with aplomb. Rather, Upstairs over-egged the tragic notes and went for all out pathos without having established a sympathetic enough relationship with the audience to achieve it. Furthermore, the songs were a mixed bag of numbers that lacked generic, or even linguistic, coherence. Overall, it was a poor foundation.

The show concluded with the final part of the story: Mata Hari’s vindication at being an innocent scapegoat of the French, German and British intelligence services. However, as the ending credits noted, her vindication went largely ignored.

It is this conclusion that clinches the object of this performance: it is a statement show, vindicating the heroine after her unrighteous execution. But message or no message, this is not good theatre.


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