Writer: Amanda Whittington
Director: Kath Rogers
Reviewer: Phil Lowe
In her acclaimed memoir, My Judy Garland Life, author Susie Boyt, says of hero worship: ‘Hero worship, when properly entered into has a great deal of poetry to it. It inspires and motivates, renews and revives. It encourages introspection, investigation of desire, personal moral inventory and all manner of fruitful examinations… To be in the habit of fixing another with your highest personal regard over time increases your capacity to love. Hero worship can aid relaxation. With your hero you can be amused, complacent, compassionate, idle, quiet and solitary. It can also auger self improvements for through the text of a life that is shared you can investigate past behaviours (your own and your idol’s) and prepare and facilitate behavioural strategies to come. You can interpret and redesign to your heart’s content and experience your own rough workings while discovering what the fair copy of yourself will entail… Hero worship can be an emotional Olympics, a way of testing one’s lowest and highest drives.’ All of the above can be said of a great night at the theatre.
The performance by Sally Ann Triplett of Judy Garland throughout her lifetime starting as a tomboyish girl entertainer dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz to battle scarred and emotionally scarred adult entertainer is nothing short of remarkable – in fact her fruitful examinations of portraying such a difficult performer as well as a short and humorous stint as her daughter Liza Minelli are indeed a nightly emotional Olympics with her winning the very well deserved applause and proverbial gold medal every time.
Faye Elvin playing the author Susie Boyt imbues the part with an elegant charm and curiosity, warmth and wit that could be straight out of the book itself. Sometimes you would think you were watching Susie and Judy themselves both on stage instead of the rôles being acted out and we find ourselves doubly sharing in the book’s strange alchemy.
The actor/musicians, Debroy Brown, William Oxborrow, and Stefan Bednarczyk perform a variety of rôles, musical accompaniment and narration throughout and are most affecting in a scene in a London cab drivers shack where an inebriated Judy Garland has sheltered with them at three in the morning.
The playwright, Amanda Whittington, has brilliantly adapted this mainly narrative driven book of fiercely intelligent and often humorous reflections of a complex life of Judy Garland fan worship. Whittington said, of the job of adapting it for the stage, that it was a often a wrestling match of what you leave in and leave out. This, she said, is because there is such of wealth of material in the original. You have to tease the play out of the original and make it theatrical, bringing it into the moment, rather than story-telling and avoid a lot of narration. What is interesting is the relationship of Susie and Judy, both complex young women, although at different times, growing up, both with commonalities and dramatic urges. Although Judy was there for Susie in impressing her development as a girl and woman, Susie wasn’t there for Judy, but in the play she is.
The play is a fantastical and musical, imagined encounter, between a star and a fan. It enables us to imagine Susie and Judy accompanying each other through life and isn’t a naturalistic story but the truths lie in the emotional content and it is a universal story about hopes and dreams and love and loss. From the MGM beginning to the glittery finishing numbe, ‘ That’s Entertainment’ and this is one hell of a show. This brand new musical drama is certainly another triumph for Nottingham Playhouse.
Picture: Robert Day | Runs until 15th February.