Monday, 02 August 2021

Performing mother is a throwback to the Thirties

BARONESS Maria Von Hackemann is not a member of the nobility.

BARONESS Maria Von Hackemann is not a member of the nobility.

The title is the creation of Maria Hackemann, a mother who spends her spare time performing as a cabaret singer.

The actress says the character allows her to show her feisty but sensuous side.

Maria has performed many times, including in her home village of Wargrave, and was one of the acts at last year’s Henley Living Advent Calendar.

She says the baroness is the natural result of her love of Thirties music, passion for performing and the influence of her German grandmother Ruth Rüber.

In fact, it was at Mrs Rüber’s 80th birthday years ago when the seeds of her alter-ego were formed as Maria performed a Marlene Dietrich tribute.

She recalls: “Dietrich was once the highest paid actress in the world, starring in The Blue Angel, and my grandmother, who was from Berlin, loved her. The film was made in English and German and a lot of the songs from it are very well-known tunes.

“The feedback I got after the birthday performance was really good and it felt like the right place at the right time for me.”

At the time, Maria was living in London and pursuing a career as an actress having studied German and performing arts at De Montfort University in Leicester.

She says: “Cabaret had started to become popular in London — there were lots of shows in nightclubs which brought life to the songs of the Thirties.

“I did some fringe productions but found that it was not enough. I also produced some theatre and did some stage management work but I wanted to do more than corporate films and videos.”

Maria met Karin Hochapfel, a German who shared her interest in Thirties music, through the British German Association in London and they formed a double act, The Germaniaxx.

She says: “We started rehearsing together and our method was to approach people to see if we could get a slot in a show. We also did some corporate events. Sometimes we would do our own show of about an hour-and-a-half and sometimes we would be part of a show with a range of acts where we would act as the MCs. I really enjoyed it and things got fairly busy.”

The duo performed at Eltham Palace, Bush Hall, Bethnal Green working men’s club, the Soho Theatre and the National Theatre.

“People seemed very responsive,” says Maria. “I think what makes the music of that era so popular still is the relevance it continues to hold.

“The lyrics talk about people standing up for their rights and singing about apathy and crime.

“Mack The Knife is about knife crime but it is also about criminals who are a little bit more subtle, so who is the worst?

“There is all sorts of continued relevance as well as some humorous lyrics and great melodies. There is a shortage of melodies in modern pop music. The songs of the Thirties had a definite start, middle and end point and a great beat.”

Maria was working as a corporate communications trainer, which she says complemented her stage work.

“Training incorporates a lot of performing arts skills, especially improvisation techniques,” she says. “I have a few strings to my bow but I really like the variety of it all and communicating is the key to all of them. Because the stuff we did as a double act was in the evenings I could do both.”

When Karin moved to Switzerland in 2009, Maria decided to perform on her own and the baroness was born.

She says: “It it seemed to be the natural progression as it was not practical for us to continue to perform together. I found that I could direct myself — collaborations are fine but it was nice to take the leap forward on my own. I created a one-hour solo show called From Head To Toe In Berlin and I had a band working with me.

“I played at the Sydenham Arts Festival and from there I also had more performance opportunities and did the National Theatre again. I also performed in Germany.

“I like to perform in different places and the biggest audience I have had is 400. There are some grim, seedy places that I have been to but I have also seen the other end of the spectrum.

“I tend to get nervous the night before a show and I dream that I get the wrong day or I forget my costume. I have had lots of mishaps. Often venues will say they have got a PA system and microphone and then it won’t work so sometimes I end up singing without a mic.”

Maria says that her stage character is an exaggerated version of herself.

“I have a range of things that I wear — it all depends on the show,” she says. “When I was in the double act I used to have long blonde hair which I wore in plaits and I would wear black. It was very much a musical comedy.

“Then I started wearing a blonde wig and then I thought I should just cut my hair short.

“Now I have two long black Thirties-style dresses and I recently purchased a nice sequined long dress, which is very Dietrich.

“I always wear long red gloves and I have a gorgeous pair of red patent Red or Dead shoes, which I love. I am fairly confident in myself but as a stage persona I can get away with extra cheekiness.

“I can play around with the act a bit — it is appropriate for the era and for the songs to be a baroness of high status, a feisty German lady, and that works for the style of the shows.”

Maria describes herself as “cabaret chanteuse” but insists her act is not burlesque.

She says: “I have performed at burlesque events but it is important that people know that while Baroness Maria Von Hackemann is very flirtatious and fun to be around, it is more suggestive and subtle than burlesque.

“She is sensuous but she does not reveal. If I wanted to take my clothes off I would but I do not want to. There are enough gorgeous ladies who do it very well.”

Maria has still found time to perform since she and husband Sean, who works in corporate finance in Henley, had their first daughter in November 2011.

She says: “I can rehearse in the day and work in the evenings. I often sing to my daughter.

“I do one or two shows a month at the moment but I am hoping that will grow.

“It has helped me feel a lot more confident about being a mum, which is quite difficult as it is a massive change in your life.

“My aim is to have a happy child at home with whom I can spend quality time while still doing the cabaret, which I really enjoy.”

Her husband, whom she also met through the British German Association, approves of her dual role.

“He actually went to see one of my shows before he met me so he knew me as a performer before he knew me,” says Maria.

“He is very supportive and likes the fact that I can still do the things that I did before the baby came along.”

And the future? “In my dream world I would take the character and give her some sort of chat show or have her writing a column or alternative agony aunt page, a bit like Mrs Merton or Dame Edna Everage.

“People crave variety entertainment as these days there is such a lot of generic manufactured stuff around. My aim is to bring the baroness to mainstream entertainment.”

lMaria will be performing at the Three Tuns in Henley market place on Thursday at 8pm.

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