Moonlight and Magnolias

Moonlight and Magnolias

Moonlight and Magnolias Rating

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Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War epic, Gone With the Wind, was published in 1936 and became an international bestseller. It was adapted into a movie in 1939, which garnered eight Academy Awards, including Hattie McDaniel’s win for Best Supporting Actress, which made her the first African American actor to take home an Oscar. However, the movie almost never made it to the big screen.

The producer, David O. Selznick, shut down production after 30 days because he was unhappy with the script. He called in hot shot writer Ben Hecht, who had never read the book, and director Victor Fleming to do a rewrite. Playwright Ron Hutchinson locks Hecht, Fleming, Selznick and his secretary in a room for five days and reimagines how the script was finished in Moonlight & Magnolias.

Hutchinson’s play, based on historical events, is written as farce, but the characters also deal with serious questions about race and the fragile position of Jewish executives in Hollywood.
The roles of Selznick, Hecht, and Fleming are based on historical figures. This play adds a secretary, Miss Poppenghul, who stays near the office while the men are locked inside for five days, surviving on peanuts and bananas.

Director Harry Dewar’s production focusses on the tension between the three creatives. He makes full use of the large stage dominated by an elegant Art Deco set in green and peach with a huge picture window at the back designed by Skye Mc Vicar and lit by Richard Parkhill. His blocking is almost choreographic at times utilising every corner of the set.

The play opens to a montage of Hollywood in the 2930s (by Brandon Boyer) with the cast cleverly included. A nice touch!

Adam Gregory Schultz plays David O. Selznick with a manic intensity, dominating the stage and pushing the narrative forward. He is a multi-tasker managing multiple props, phone calls, intercoms, bananas and peanuts with equal ease! He scenes with Hecht in Act 2 are a highlight.

Terry Crowe plays Ben Hecht the frustrated script writer with compassion. He is the realist of the creative team. The play uses Hecht’s character to raise questions about whether the script glorifies the Old South. He doubts that the movie will be a hit and doesn’t even want writing credit on the script for fear that it will ruin his career. Hecht asks Selznick at one point, “Why don’t you make a movie that makes America look its ugly face in the mirror?” To which Selznick replies, “Because no one wants to see that. America wants to see the way it thinks it looks.”

Scott Battersby plays Victor Fleming the director, pulled from the set of The Wizard of Oz to work on Gone With The Wind has many of the show’s ‘one-liners’ which he delivers with precision. His portrayal of Melanie giving birth in Act 2 is hysterical!

Rebecca Gardiner plays the well-meaning secretary Miss Poppenghul with patience alternating with exasperation. Dealing with Selznick is enough, but now she has two extra egos to deal with. Special mentions need to go to the costume coordinator Makala Modra and especially the props team Janet Jauncy and Karen Prior who progressively cover the stage with crumpled paper and scripts as time passes in the play.

My reservation with this production is the vocal tone of Act 1 which lacked light and shade with the result that the actors had nowhere to go when angry and some of the laughs were lost. This was resolved in Act 2.

Moonlight and Magnolias is an exposé of the side of Hollywood we do not see, the prejudices of the period, and of course the egos that brought us one of the most iconic movies of the last century!

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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Spanish Film Festival: Jokes and Cigarettes

Jokes and Cigarettes

Jokes and Cigarettes Rating

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Director David Trueba says of his film Jokes and Cigarettes – “This is a film about humour, and about survival. Eugenio was one of the most popular comedians of the Transition. Everything about his appearance was at odds with humour: a serious man, with no gestures, hiding behind tinted glasses and a black shirt, with a lit cigarette behind a microphone, who would be the one to make a whole country laugh. But… what was hidden inside him?”

Directed and written by multiple Goya Award winner David Trueba and starring David Verdaguer in a virtuoso performance, Jokes and Cigarettes tells the story of the famous Catalan comedian Eugenio, the chain-smoking comedian known for his deadpan delivery, his smoked glasses and his trademark total black attire. It concentrates on his formative years as a comedian during the 60s and 70s, where he became a fixture on the TV sets of every Spaniard.

Barcelona, late 1960s. A young jeweller named Eugenio meets Conchita on a bus and it is smitten. Eugenio learns to play guitar to follow Conchita a singer, and, despite stage fright, they start to play together. When Conchita leaves Barcelona for two weeks, she convinces Eugenio to perform solo and Eugenio becomes a phenomenon in the city’s underground comedy scene. Helped by Conchita, he creates his comedy ego–the dark glasses, the black shirt, the barstool, the cigarettes and the high ball glass–the character that would soon become an unexpected success.

The producer Edmon Roch recalls, “I remember when I went to see the comedian who made people laugh before he’d even opened his mouth. I was ten years old, and I could see my parents laughing their heads off at the sight of this tall man sitting on a stool, stretching out his every movement with an unperturbed gesture before he started to speak. There was a liturgy, an expectation, a palpable ritual. Later, when I discovered Buster Keaton, I thought of Eugenio’s unflappable face, he’s still present in our memory and his humour lives on.”

Jokes and Cigarettes

David Verdaguer delivers a totally believable performance as Eugenio. His deadpan delivery as a comedian is perfection contrasting with his love for his wife and son. I particularly enjoyed the scene where he drops in on his son’s school concert, surprising his son who is doing an impersonation of his father’s comedy act.

Carolina Yuste is compassionate, loving and also totally believable as Eugenio’s wife, Conchita. Her early scenes with Verdaguer are a joy to watch and her death scene is a tearjerker.
Beautifully photographed, Jokes and Cigarettes also has a magical soundtrack of 60s and 70s Catalan music.

Jokes and Cigarettes is a film about humour and survival that explores what was hiding behind that serious man that made a whole country laugh!

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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Potted Potter – The Unauthorised Harry Experience

Potted Potter

Potted Potter Rating

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Every now and again a show comes along that is simply just good fun. Potted Potter is one of these shows. It is child-like (in the best possible way), hysterical and does not depend on a deep knowledge of the seven Harry Potter books.

The Playhouse, normally home to the State Theatre Company of SA, was packed with eager children of all ages, some dressed as their heroes, accompanied by apprehensive parents. The atmosphere was palpable.

The stage is shrouded with mysterious objects covered with sheets, a study corner with a desk standing on a pile of books, ominous shadows and eerie music. A perfect setting for horror story, but this production is everything but that!

Written by Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, with direction by Richard Hurst, set by Simon Scullion, lighting by Tim Mascall, video by Tom Hillenbrand and music by Phil Innes, Potted Potter was ‘born’ in 2005 as a 5-minute street show, and has evolved since then, travelling around the world, into the current 70-minute spectacle.

Featuring the comedic talents of Scott Hoatson and Jacob Jackson, the production rockets along and includes, puppets, quidditch, fast costume changes, quidditch, audience participation, quidditch, topical references and yes, of course, quidditch!

At roughly 10 minutes per book, this is no mean feat for Scott and Jacob, however, they handle the task with ease and never allow the pace or the humour to drop, complete with numerous ad libs and in jokes.

Hoatson plays the wizard himself, complete with the trademark glasses and more than a passing resemblance. Jackson plays all the other characters (except the golden snitch). Individually and together, they are masters of their art with enough material to interest children and adults alike. The rapport between them is amazing, particularly when using physical humour.

If you are a Harry Potter purist, be prepared to suspend your devotion to perfection for 70 minutes and embrace your inner child. There are references to Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park, Australian political figures and more!

At times it is hard to determine where the script ends and the ad libs begin as the performers work at rocket pace daring us to keep up. The direction (Richard Hurst) is flawless and we could be forgiven for believing the boys are ‘making it up as they go along as the banter is completely natural.

Highlights for me include – Voldemort wearing bright red horns (a parody of Maleficent?), the final battle between Harry and the dark lord staged as a sing off to ‘I Will Survive’ and the terrifying (or is it?) Norwegian Ridgeback dragon battle with Harry.

As wonderful as these highlights are, the climax of the evening is the game of Quidditch with two lucky members of the audience as ‘keepers’. Blow up globes of the Earth bounce through the audience in search of the lifebuoy goals in the auditorium and the golden snitch is spotted and captured to win the game. Hoatson, as the snitch, in an amazing golden costume that defies my description, was lucky to survive the keepers in this performance.

Potted Potter – The unauthorised Harry experience – a Parody by Dan and Jeff is a joyous 70 minutes packed with hilarity, audience participation and downright good fun. It is sure to cast a spell on those who are young, and those us who wish we still were! A must see!

Dunstan Playhouse – Adelaide Festival Centre. May 10-12

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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