RON Hutchinson’s Moonlight and Magnolias, brought to the stage of the Festival Theatre Studio this week by local amateur company Leitheatre, is a fond love letter from one Hollywood script writer to another.
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Festival Theatre Studio, Potterrow
It perfectly captures the energy, prejudices, and totalitarianism of 1930s LA movie lots where more than 300 films were made a year.
Set over the five short days it took three of show business’s hottest upstarts to re-write the script for Gone With The Wind, this play knowingly explores the inner workings of movie production and meeting audience’s desires at the cost of artistic integrity.
Playing the story’s neurotic conscience, David Rennie is measured and direct as writer Ben Hecht. His bookish, waspish performance butting up against Josh Ingram’s bullish and blunt Victor Fleming.
Playing the pair to his advantage, Kevin Rowe’s David O Selznick embraces the impresario’s casual ebullience and authoritarian management style.
Holding fast to their American accents the trio are confident in each other’s company and the story they’re trying to tell, although perhaps not in the rhythm and flow of the script.
Intended to be a quick fire round of ’40s repartee, the pace of the actors is a little too relaxed to really set the gags soaring. Their body language indicating that they’re too engaged in delivering their lines to think about what their characters’ actual purpose is on stage in that moment.
If Director Rik Kay ramped up the melodrama somewhat more as the story unfolded rather than allowing a cool British reserve to govern, it would give the final act some much needed zing.
Elona C Smith’s Miss Poppenghul is a perfectly competent secretary, which is only disappointing from the perspective that she’s so poorly realised by Hutchinson.
This was an era of iconic female roles; O’Selznick overseeing Rebecca, Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz simultaneously in that year, while Hecht wrote not only anti-hero Scarlett O’Hara but the sublime Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday. Yet the only female representation in the play barely gets a handful of lines.
Moonlight and Magnolias is a play for players, it will help an audience fully appreciate the social context and birth of one of the biggest movies of all time. Without Scarlett O’Hara in the room, however, it’s hard to give a damn.
Run ends today