Isn’t it charming to imagine that every creative ‘light bulb’ moment you’ve ever had was the result of cheeky character dropping and whispering little hints of inspiration into your daily life? In the powerfully mischievous, yet somewhat unconvincing Muse 90401, Fadik Sevin Atasoy writes and performs this one-woman show about the jovial crimes of one of these very characters.
Brought before a court (represented by the aptly used cliche of an echoing masculine voice) to describe and defend her offences in trying to make great artists like Shakespeare, Tolstoy and da Vinci alter their celebrated representations of women, this muse dynamically reanimates famous real and fictional female figures like Cleopatra and Mona Lisa.
Atasoy is an enchantingly expert performer, transitioning with seamless clarity between each wholly developed character. As the playful Muse, she is a skillful storyteller with infectious energy; as Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, her deep, brooding voice holds her audience with heavy control; and, as the Mona Lisa, her eccentrically shrill delivery joyfully subverts our established assumptions.
The musical numbers, accompanied on stage by Murat Koselioglu on grand piano, offer a commercial accessibility and Horrible Histories-esque humour to the stories. An opening ballad that poetically breaks humanity down to each of the various senses and physicalities that the muse wishes she could experience herself, holds an especially romantic moment. “Being a muse is like having breath but no saxophone” epitomises the historically feminine struggle of being merely a source of inspiration without access to the tools to artistically self-represent.
Atasoy’s script is consistently witty, lucid and well-researched, clearly written by a passionate performer aware of her own charismatic strengths. A moment of shouting whilst trying to communicate with Van Gogh on account of his cut-off ear is particularly hilarious. The structure, however, is quite stubbornly episodic and lacking in inspired transitions between each ‘case’. The strict and simple shape becomes complacent in a particular formula of story-song-”next please”, allowing for a level of tiring repetition of ideas throughout the separate narratives.
The set is confidently stripped back, framed by an exposed brick cyclorama that stands in simple and satisfying contrast with Atasoy’s classical, flowing white dress. Most extra props or costume used to signify each new character are neatly contained in a suitcase, allowing for the slick transitions of a muse well-rehearsed in her purpose.
Despite the high theatrical spirit of this performance, it’s moral message is a little reaching. By simply suggesting that misogyny exists in these works of art and literature because their masters ignored the better suggestions of a progressive muse undermines and oversimplifies wider contexts of, or even culturally constructive reasons why, their fictional women were mistreatreated. Whilst it’s helpful to recognise and cut into sexism in the work and lives of our championed historical artists, to infer that tacking a happy ending onto the lives of Anna Karenina or Cleopatra would incite social change is a little naive.
Whilst the muse’s sickly sweet idealisation of humanity and our creations feels forced and, at times, awkwardly contradictory, her romantic closing notion that “theatre is the only place that we can unite with the humans” neatly ties some elements of this show together. Atasoy’s talent as a dramatic writer and performer are unquestionably powerful, but with this, as well as Muse 90401’s temptingly progressive concept, the show promises a lot more than its message ultimately delivers.
Muse 90401 streams online for Brighton Fringe until 23 October. For more information and tickets, see Brighton Fringe online.