Helga (Henni Kervinen) is a former star in her twilight years. She shuffles across her house in colourful woollens and silently reminisces about her heyday. The radio blares out nostalgic tunes that instantly evoke the impression that she has lived a full life – Life Of Diva Extraordinaire contrasts the mundanity of an old age daily routine with the energy of a vicarious youth in a pleasant one-hander.
As Helga (Kervinen) reads the papers, drinks coffee laced with alcohol and hurriedly prepares for an unknown visitor, the flashbacks to her past start to manifest. At first the scenes are slow and sluggish, as expected for an older lady who takes life at a much slower pace. Kervinen’s expression and characterisation of Helga is deliberate, comedic and without fuss. As the show progresses, the present version of Helga gains back some of her youthful vigour in a final showcase of commitment to her craft, determination to beat the odds and empathetic impact. She tries to return to the bright lights of her youth, not caring how the performance will go down. We all admire her pluck.
As the past creeps back in, we rewind to a glamorous young career as a trapeze artist, but this is more awkwardly delivered. The implication is that Helga was the foremost in cabaret when she was younger – this does not come across in the performance. The acrobatics themselves are stunted and awkwardly delivered, lacking the fluidity and flexibility that a trapeze performer typically possesses. This particular stage may not be the right place to try and execute feats of circus trickery.
The movement forward into motherhood is the true Life Of Diva Extraordinaire – the glittering career matters less when you have the love and dependence of a child. Jenni Kallo’s direction injects tenderness and musical narrative into this piece of pathos. Feelings of abandonment and loneliness bubble up to the surface as the child grows up and moves on – more focus on this portion of the tale will really add impact and highlight the crushing weight of dealing with being alone after you are in charge of caring for someone for so long. There’s an interesting mental health take here that Kallo can bring out more in the production.
In the end, Helga continues to rush round and set the table for the guest that never shows – Life Of Diva Extraordinaire is a stark look at the contrast between life in its prime and in its final moments. Helga is a wonderful role model, well performed by Kervinen. She’s one that we can all learn a few lessons from.
Life Of Diva Extraordinaire plays C South as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 27 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.