Love London Love Culture’s Emma Clarendon spoke to Melinda Hughes about her new show Half Woman Half Beast.
Hi Melinda thanks so much for talking to Love London Love Culture. Could you tell me a bit more about your show Half Woman Half Beast? Margo Lion was a celebrated cabaret star who came from Constantinople to study ballet. Instead she was gripped by the decadence and debauchery of 1920͛s Berlin. She fell in love with the lyricist Marcellus Schiffer and performed at the famous music hall Shall und Rauch but theirs was a tempestuous relationship, fuelled by alcohol, cocaine and jealousy. Margo was also the lover of Marlene Dietrich so it was a heady environment. The story takes place between 1928-1932 during the rise of Fascism. The title half woman half beast is a line from the song I am a vamp written by Spoliansky and Schiffer.
How did the concept for the show come about? I’ve been pretty much obsessed with Weimar Cabaret for a good fifteen years now and as I performed my satirical cabaret shows with Jeremy Limb, I drew from the Weimar period as my inspiration for our own satire as it was the last bastion of political protest. I also had a Weimar show called Weimar & Back but I felt that simply performing the songs as stand and sing wasn’t dramatic enough given the political context of the music. Out of all the famous cabaret singers of the era, Margo Lion was someone I identified with the most. I quickly saw her story could be the perfect vehicle for the songs set in an enthralling time in history.
What drew you to Margo Lion’s story? I loved the fact that she was a foreigner in Berlin, that she was temperamental, and that her relationship with her husband (lyricist Marcellus Schiffer) was riddled with bisexuality, jealousy and drug taking – all the ingredients for fabulous drama that it practically wrote itself. I read so many books on the Weimar period and wrote scenes drawn from entries from the diaries of Marcellus Schiffer and Mischa Spoliansky.
What are you most looking forward to about performing the show in front of the audiences? I’m looking forward to exposing audiences to a period of time with an amazing wealth of music they may not know. I’m also looking forward to developing Margo’s character; finding more depth which I’ve already starting working on with my director Sarah Sigal. I’m thankful she’s so knowledgable about this period. We are completely on the same page and we’ve managed to find plenty of humour in the piece. The songs are fantastic and it’s a rollercoaster of a show.
As well as the show you have a brand new album as well! What can you tell me about the album? I recorded a CD in 2007 of Mischa Spoliansky songs called Smoke & Noise which got great reviews – it was a little short so we added some of our newly written songs which reviewers loved. Our new album Weimar & Back is almost like a second volume of songs by Kurt Weil, Mischa Spoliansky, Friedrich Hollander and Werner Heymann as well as our own newly written material which is quite naughty!
Have you any favourite songs on the album? I’m particularly proud of “In Berlin” which I co-wrote with Jeremy Limb. It captures the spirit of decadence and debauchery of the late 1920’s. The word play in “Britannia waives the rules” is also lots of fun. For its esoteric content though, Werner Heymann’s “Monotonous night” is a real find.
After all of this – what have you got planned next? I’m taking MARGO to The Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh from 2-18 August but before I do that, I’m singing Mahler’s 4th at St John’s Waterloo with the Sinfonia Tamesa in July. After Edinburgh I have concerts in Italy then I start a monthly residency at Pizza Express in Holborn called “Melinda’s Tasty Tuesdays” with lots of special guests; both comedians and singers.