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Posts Tagged ‘Bill Dudley’

I don’t really share the fascination and adulation many still have with Judy Garland over 40 years after her death. I’d even go as far as to say that way too much has been said and written about her. In fact, I find the obsession with dead ‘stars’ in general a bit difficult. Not a great starting point for this show then!

By focusing on a very short period at the end of her life, what playwright Peter Quilter has done is delivered something with more psychological depth than your average biographical play. I can’t say I entirely understand what turns someone into the wreck she was at the end of her life, but the play does help you begin to understand.

The action takes place in her London hotel room (finely detailed design from the great Bill Dudley) and the Talk of the Town where she is performing a five-week stint. The two men in her life are the other main characters – gay pianist and confidante Anthony and toy boy fiancée / manager Micky; the motivation of the former seemingly genuine but the later somewhat dubious. By playing out the tempestuous will-she-won’t-she-perform back story alongside concert scenes, the play explores the psychological and emotional journey they’re all on. I was a bit shocked when the hotel room wall rose to reveal a small band, but these performance scenes and snatches are an important element to the story – fortunately they’re played for realism in context rather than concert perfection.

It must be very difficult to play any other character against this larger-than-life icon, but both Stephen Hagan as Mickey and Hilton McRea do extremely well to bring their characters to life. I felt Tracie Bennett occasionally came close to pushing her performance over the edge, but it is an extraordinary acting achievement. At the curtain call, I was so exhausted I only just managed to get to my feet to join the spontaneous ovation, while she bounced on stage looking like she could do it all over again!

To turn this cynic around is no mean achievement and to witness Tracie Bennett’s own star performance is an unmissable treat.

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