Fempire: Mess (5 stars)

This article is from 2019

Fempire: Mess

credit: Darrett Sanders

A personal show about sex, religion and quantum mechanics

Who is Kirsten Vangsness? She's an actress, recognisable from police-procedural show Criminal Minds. It looks like she hangs out with author Neil Gaiman, who provides a recommendation for her show, the cheekily titled Mess. She's got a second show at the fringe called Cleo, Theo and Wu.

So, just another US import, visiting the Fringe to fan the flames of a TV hit? Quite the opposite. Kirsten Vangsness is a confident performer, but what she's performing is anyone's guess; she's certainly not dining out on past glories. 'Now, where was I with my show?' she asks the audience as she lobs another tablecloth of scribblings about quantum theory into a bin.

No answers are forthcoming, but the lack of response should not be mistaken for disinterest; Fempire: Mess is a semi-autobiographical account of the performer's upbringing in Pasadena, California, her struggles with her own religious and sexual issues, and her consideration of herself at various ages. Name-checking the film Arrival and it's non-linear portrayal of time, Vangsness considers every age in her life to be happening at once, each informing each other.

So don't go expecting cosy anecdotes about working on the small-screen with Mandy Patinkin; Vangsness is more interested in articulating Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and other aspects of quantum mechanics. Her manner is delightfully offhand, and yet the show bears the marks of a passion project, meticulously sculpted; 'shame and power equals … shower', she says, and such Joycean doubling–down on wordplay gives Fempire: Mess a unique feel. Similarly, Vangsness's reference points are wonderfully arcane; a reference to Helen Mirren's performance in John Boorman's Excalibur can hardly be described as zeitgeisty, given that hardly anyone saw that film in 1981 let alone watches it now, but Vangsness isn't trying to create buzzword recognition. Her high-brow show is a groaning buffet of loop-the-loop logic and cosmic questioning; delivered in inimitable style.

Assembly Rooms, 5, 8, 11, 15, 18, 21, 24 Aug, 8.15pm, £10–£11 (£9–£10).

Fempire: Mess by Kirsten Vangsness

  • 5 stars

Theatre of NOTE We all are a mess, I guess. In Mess, Kirsten Vangsness of Criminal Minds explores the non-linearity of time, visible quantum objects, monsters, kittens and Christian rock. Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Strong Language/Swearing Age category: 14+