How Eva Von Schnippisch Saved Hollywood presented by Ware It’s At Productions
Updated: Feb 21, 2020
What Is It?
A scandal-fuelled, spy-thriller, one-woman comedy musical. An action-packed feminist adventure. Writer/producer/performer Stephanie Ware’s alter ego Eva Von Schnippisch is back in the sequel to How Eva Won WWII, for which she won the Vault 2019 Festival Spirit Award. Bridging the gap between cabaret and theatre, the showbe features its own original show tunes, scored by Oliver Collier.
What Is It About?
After single-handedly winning WWII, “Britain’s No.1 Spy” is back to save Hollywood from itself. Eva tries to chase her dreams while braving the dark side of glamour, as she drags Tinseltown’s dirty laundry out to air. This may be set in the Golden Age of the Silver Screen, but the frame of reference is that of the cases still coming to light today in the #MeToo movement.
How Did It Make Me Feel?
Garbo? Dietrich? Eva taught them everything they knew!
This was fun. Ware is a brilliant performer who knows how to get the audience on her side. Tech and lighting-related misfires—“One night only, no dress rehearsal!”—are played off so precisely and with such panache that they end up adding to the show. It’s a bridge between cabaret and theatre as advertised, and the format works. Audience engagement is encouraged. The general atmosphere is gorgeous and camp.
The show itself is both pastiche and loving send-up of familiar tropes in film noir, gangster and spy thrillers. Think Raymond Chandler, but without the sombre men in dark suits staring into the middle distance amidst plumes of backlit smoke. Collier’s score taps right into the genre and era, and keeps the action going. There’s a lot of playing with the post-War comedy stereotypes of Germans historically found on British TV—there’s a healthy amount of ‘ja’ and ‘scheiße’ thrown about (and that in itself is a very ‘Eva’ pun to make)—which I tend to find tiresome, but Ware has the talent and the charm to make it work well.
There’s a lot of playing in general. As can be expected of a show rooted in pulp genres, it often flashes thigh at the boundaries of good taste. This isn’t a bad thing. One of the very first things Eva does onstage is to announce, “This is not high brow theatre.” But it falls flat in the scene where ‘Garvey Weinerstein’ sexually exploits Eva in his hotel room after he promises to make her a star. The scene doesn’t quite get the balance or the framing right, and skews to uncomfortable, somewhat souring the experience. It’s not played for laughs at Eva’s expense, so it’s not that it’s punching down. As stated, Ware is skilled at controlling the mood and audience, and there is a moment later on in the show that is genuinely sad, so it isn’t down to clumsy mood whiplash.
In hindsight, it’s not the show’s fault. Laughter is one of the best tools through which we can reclaim our experiences, after all. The scene is the only one to strip Eva of her badass super-spy agency. There is no physical Weinerstein onstage. We only see Eva, made to pose in a way intended for the male gaze. As the scene progresses, it becomes less funny at Weinerstein’s expense and more horrifying at Eva’s. What I found disturbing was the social experiment value in noticing which demographics of the audience kept laughing even after it turned threatening, and which stopped. The end result might be subtler than most would give credit for: the clowning convention of speaking truth unto power comes to mind. If this was the intention, it is brilliant, but it may be too subtle in the moment, while enduring those laughing and wolf whistling at Eva’s abuse.
But, reader, have no fear: there is a comeuppance. And it is glorious.
The rest of the show is full of nods and winks to the history of the era, including a star-crossed affair with one legendary blonde icon called Marilyn. One of the most hilarious songs is about an awkwardly-negotiated threesome between Eva, Marilyn, and a third wheel who also happens to be the Secret Service’s charge. It’s an unexpected wild ride of a show that comes together with a bang.
Ware has been performing as Eva for 8 years, and appears as a regular compère at Gersch & Rox Presents Cabaret At The Curtain, and at the Ministry Of Sound’s: The Ministry Of Cabaret. It would be interesting to meet the character outside the context of a play. I also enjoyed Ware and von Schnippisch having separate bios in the copy for the show. It’s one of the little touches indicating that a lot of care and love was put into making sure Eva is a well-developed character with a life of her own.
Finally, the onstage costume changes deserve a shout out.
How Eva Von Schnippisch Saved Hollywood premiered at the VAULT Festival on Wednesday 19th February 2020.
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