Thursday, 7 August 2014

Dark Voyager at the Ensemble

A most impressive production DARK VOYAGER Ensemble Theatre There’s no business like show business... The claws are out in this new biting witty dark comedy by John Misto , billed as “a sparkling new comedy inspired by real events”. The title of the play is a blend of ‘Now Voyager’ and ‘Dark Victory’, both famous Bette Davis films that have no relation to the play itself. It is a flamboyant script full of double entendres , sizzling insults and one-liners . There are , however , moments of poignancy that offer alternative moments of balance and grounding . We are in Hollywood , August 1962 at an imaginary dinner at columnist Hedda Hopper’s home with legendary film star rivals Bette Davis and Joan Crawford . They are at war and locked in a massive fight for top billing in their latest movie ( ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’ , which they are terrified will be a flop) .A most uneasy truce is declared .Things get chaotic though when a young ,fragile Marilyn Monroe arrives as well. Will treachery and old age defeat youth and courage? Or is there more to Monroe than anyone would have thought ? The set by Anna Gardiner is stunning , all very elegant ,posh art deco black and white in exquisite taste.And the fantastic lighting by Matthew Marshall is elegant and atmospheric . Director Anna Crawford has done a splendid job with her outstanding cast . Jeanette Cronin as Bette Davis is fabulous - over the top drunk ,dark and bitchy , sneering and snarling .There are neat twists – does Skip really not recognise her ? (and she him from their past encounter?) Her huge eyes are magnificent and she has the accent down pat. She has a show stopping very dramatic scene stealing monologue about her childhood , poverty and being burnt. I agree with my colleagues though - I also did not like the brown lacy jacket and skirt outfit Davis is saddled with . As Joan Crawford , eloquent Pepsi spokesperson, Kate Raison is brilliant too. Rather aloof and elegant in an exquisite turquoise dress and turban she is strong willed and a control freak. Her big moments are for example when she reveals the truth and what happened about Skip .At one point she tries to smother Monroe with a pillow but Monroe is saved by Davis. Both Davis and Crawford deliciously , wickedly feed off each other .The script is full of biting repartee and there are catfights in both acts. Crawford blames Monroe for Clark Gable’s death among other things. Lizzie Mitchell as Marilyn Monroe is stunning, glorious in a long off-white dress ( vaguely reminiscent of her famous dress in ‘The Seven Year Itch ‘) with a pale pink sash and long buttoned cuffs. She floats in an overdosed world of drugs and drink , an ‘out of it’ femme fatale ,revealing unexpected secrets and saying the right thing at the wrong moment. A magnificent performance . What I particularly noticed about Belinda Giblin as bitchy Hedda Hopper was the fabulous hat and quasi-Egyptian style necklace and outfit she wore. Hopper brokers and breaks deals , cattily ruling the roost. Lots of private and powerful political secrets are revealed all fodder for her column.( This is the age of the Kennedys and Hoover ) . Tall ,terribly handsome Skip ,Hopper’s butler is played by Eric Beecroft .He is an actor manqué but now stutters ( There is a powerful monologue where he reveals how Davis wrecked his audition ). Another wonderful moment is when he tells Monroe how beautiful she is and men fall at her feet . Poor Skip is actually used and abused by all four women - can he survive ? With all the catfighting about the Oscar there is a most ironic conclusion . This is a great crowd pleaser of a play the audience lapped it up and laughed in all the right places . On with the show... Running time 2 ½ hours including interval ‘Dark Voyager’ runs at the Ensemble Theatre July 24 – 30 August 2014 ERIC BEECROFT as Skip JEANETTE CRONIN as Bette Davis BELINDA GIBLIN as Hedda Hopper LIZZIE MITCHELL as Marilyn Monroe KATE RAISON as Joan Crawford