22
Mar
12

bombshells

Bombshells

Queensland Theatre Company

Featuring Christen O’Leary

Directed by Wesley Enoch

17th March – 21st April

 

“A one person show is an act of endurance for a performer and a true showcase of their skills.”

Director, Wesley Enoch

From Australia’s foremost female playwright, Johanna Murray-Smith, who brought us the phenomenal Songs for Nobodies (currently pitching to the Broadway gods), comes this neat little show, which Murray-Smith wrote for award-winning, just-about-to-return-to-Broadway powerhouse performer, Caroline O’Connor. I think it’s fair to say that there is not a performer anywhere in the world, quite like Caroline O’Connor and despite her having teensy, tiny feet; O’Connor’s are big shoes to fill. Of course, there was never any intention to recreate the original production but it’s hard to forget it, isn’t it?

Luckily, Christen O’Leary won us over on Monday night – within seconds, in fact – with her first character, my absolute favourite, Meryl Louise Davenport, the inadequate mother, frantic with school day preparation, distraction and procrastination, continuously despairing over her unsuccessful attempts to “connect” with her children, her husband, herself as well as her inability to complete even the most menial tasks for the household when she’s “not even working”. Every mother must recognise this mother! In abject horror, we see in Meryl our own failings in every area – even sleep – and we have to laugh. But it’s from a place that is so uncomfortably familiar; we squirm and silently wonder, “Oh wow… was that really my day today?” And the louder inner voice, in the same rapid-fire delivery as O’Leary’s, which we feel sure everybody around us can hear, with its cruel judgment and damnation replies, “YES. Yes, it was, you hopeless, ambitionless, pathetic excuse for a child-rearing, formally-completely-capable, desirable woman, wife and mother.” Oh. Yes. Well, fuck.

O’Leary’s performance during this opening out-loud-inner monologue is absolutely superb. With heightened energy and frenetic business, her voice supports her thrown-together school-run persona (“lipstick, that’ll do it, whack it on; that way the other mothers will think I’m in control!”) and it’s funny because it’s true; we all have those days.

Next, we meet her neighbor, Tiggy, a succulent lover. That is, a lover of succulents who has recently lost a lover. Her anguish is almost palpable and we feel for this woman, with such well laid plans that have come well unstuck. She is comforted by the success of her enormous cactus, ridiculously phallic, making us feel sorry for the poor bugger to which she likens it, whom she suddenly spots in the audience, thereafter directing every insult to him! Nicely staged. Meryl and Tiggy, along with the beautiful widowed soul, Winsome, who we meet later, at sixty-eight allowing the label afforded her, determine who she is. An unexpected erotic encounter changes Winsome when she – and we – presumed nothing of the sort would ever happen to her again. Those of us older than twittering age (and I’m not referring to social media) appreciate her gentle, stately grace, her benevolence, her life of new routine to fit in with “the widows”, while students, too young to see past the imagery conjured by mummy porn and O’Leary’s facial expressions as she reads it aloud, giggle at the comical, clever writing. O’Leary’s commitment to the woman’s story is assisted in this piece by the exquisite execution of pause. Giggling students take note and do see this play again in a few years.

Mary O’Donnell is the character I like least. I’ve seen all manner of interpretations – this monologue is popular for auditions and senior assessment – and her inflated ego and misguided ambition is the tragi-comedy of another familiar situation; that of the high school talent show. (Cue Mr G style approach to performance.) The character prepares Lloyd Webber’s Macavity, in full drama class cat regalia (ie leotard, tail and ears), only to find her nemesis performs the same song, leaving O’Donnell with no option but to perform an impromptu, interpretive Shaft number. It falls flat. I must say, I prefer all lip-synching (drag queens) or all singing (everybody but drag queens), rather than hear a combination of the two. It was during Macavity that I felt O’Leary’s voice started to tire and she appeared to work much harder at this point, to harness the massive amount of energy needed to go on with the show. The Shaft sequence is simply too long, albeit hilarious at first.

Next, the sister of O’Donnell’s trophy-touting, triple- threat nemesis, Theresa McTerry, is getting married and we get the sense that IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DRESS. This is one story I don’t relate to but I’m sure, from the number of reality TV shows built on the same premise, that other brides must. O’Leary sips pink sparkling while dressing and freaking out, knowing she’s about to make a huge mistake.

Cabaret star, Liza Zoe, is hardened and fabulously drunk, though she lays claim to sobriety and leaves us with our own lingering thoughts on the conflicts associated with celebrity and fortune, forcing the question, what is it all for? This final piece is the one which truly showcases Simone Romaniuk’s ingenious revolving set, all mirrors on this side (we’ve seen the practical reverse of cupboards and doorways, which house dozens of props and wardrobe items), taking over for a moment as the star of the show and providing a glittering backdrop to O’Leary’s final story, told largely in song (Composer/Sound Designer Phil Slade). Daniel Anderson’s lighting design (Lighting Consultant David Walters) is exemplary in the first and final scenes. O’Leary is stunning in a distinctive silver gown, featured in The Courier Mail’s interview with O’Leary on Saturday). The words were perhaps a little too slurred – I wanted to discern what she was singing about – and although I felt her vocals had recovered somewhat, I would like to hear O’Leary sing again. Something outside of this show, something that is ideal for her. I didn’t see Voice Coach, Melissa Agnew (my own, incidentally, back in the QUT days and it’s always a delight to run into her in foyers now) but I would be interested to hear what sort of tips she has for vocal health and stamina during the run of such a demanding show.

In each character we see the high level of commitment and subtext that can only come from a skilled actress and director, working in close partnership during the creative process. For students of the craft, there is more where that came from at QPAC this week. Not only O’Leary but also, Miriam Margoyles is this week at the venue. Margoyles attended the Bombshells preview on Monday night and stayed to sit in on director’s notes after the show (after being stopped for photographs with Matthew Flinders Anglican College students, who were kindly and most generously advised by the doyenne, “Always, always go to your light, girls”. A pointed note and a beautiful moment, which I’m sure they’ll remember for many years to come). Keep an eye out for Michelle’s review of Margoyles’ Dickens’ Women, which also opens tonight, when QPAC will be awash with pink and bling (the dress advice for Bombshells attendees).

I feel that the slightly older bombshells are sitting with O’Leary very comfortably. We see their ticks and take in their nuances. We feel for them and whether or not we are ready to see the harsh truth, the women become our mirrors, just as Murray-Smith intended.

So often, six women rather than one perform this show and it is little wonder; this is one of the toughest gigs in town to pull off. I’m sure the opening night audience tonight will find that Christen O’Leary does just that.


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4 Responses to “bombshells”


  1. 1 ken
    March 24, 2012 at 11:22 am

    I think you should have made it clearer that the show you reviewed actually hadn’t opened. It was in preview, which you only allude to in your last sentence. I couldn’t find the reviewer’s name anywhere on the article – maybe it’s elsewhere in the blog …

  2. March 25, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    Hi Ken, welcome and sorry you found things unclear. I usually include the season dates and I’ve now added them. The link within the post takes you to the venue website, which notes more obviously, the opening night date (and I guess if you keep coming back, you’ll get used to my style)! Thanks for your comment and I hope you enjoy Bombshells! x


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