Presented by the Adelaide Festival Centre and Christine Dunstan Productions
Reviewed Monday 4th April 2011
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, 58 Grote Street, Adelaide
Season: 7th to 9th & 13th to 16th April: Wednesday 13th 6.30pm, Thursday 11am & 6.30pm, Friday 7.30pm, Saturday 2pm & 7.30pm
Duration: 90mins no interval
Tickets: Premium $65/Adult $55/Concession $45/Group (6+) $45/Student $25/GreenRoom $19.90
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or http://www.bass.net.au
As the piece begins we find Nancye Hayes OAM as Marjory Joy, dressed as a pantomime dame in a decaying costume, and Reg Livermore AO as her son, Alistair, dressed in a child’s sailor suit. She is performing in a theatre, in the style of late Victorian music hall, or so it seems. She sings, dances and jokes, with songs from the past including Mister Monsieur, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles and Mairzy Doats. As she progresses something starts to seem not quite right, and then she announces her imminent death and brings Alistair into the performance as her doctor. He goes along with her in a surreal interaction, shortly after leaving her to continue her reminiscences.
A quick set change, using a double revolve, and we find her transported to a room in a maisonette, a 95 year old woman lost in her past glories. The theatre was only in her mind, a memory, or so it appears. As her bizarre performance continues, interspersed with memories of her past, we see that she is not in full control of her faculties and we discover that Alistair has given up his own life to care for her in her dotage. Her dementia is clearly taking a toll on him.
The play is in three sections. Hayes dominates the first part, with an occasional comment or two from Livermore, they share the middle section equally and then, with Marjory’s death, Livermore is alone for the last part as Alistair returns from her funeral and tells of his relationship with his mother, of the truth about her theatrical past and of her own mother. We also learn a lot more about Alistair, now that he is free to travel his own path and unencumbered by his mother.
This three part structure allows each of these great stars to shine in their own right and the centre section gives us a chance to see them work together, a real treat for audiences. Devised and written by Livermore, this is a rare opportunity to see two of Australia’s greatest theatre stars in a piece written especially for their particular talents. Each gives a tour de force performance and their work together in the middle section is wonderfully rich. It is clear why these two are such highly respected and greatly loved performers.
Director, Tom Healey, and choreographer, Karen Johnson Mortimer, have ensured that the full range of possibilities in the script are brought out and the style of the music hall is maintained in Dorothy’s pantomime performances. The set and costumes by James Browne and Matthew Aberline respectively, are striking and well-lit by Trudy Dalgleish.
The marvellous pianist, Vincent Colagiuri, accompanies Hayes superbly through all of the old songs, matching his playing to style of the era. He then changes the style of music completely for Livermore, starting with Music Maestro Please. Alistair then discusses his mother, her funeral, their relationship and her effect on his life. We also hear of his father, whose face Marjory had cut from all of the photographs and whose existence she refused to acknowledge. He begins to explore his new freedom but there is a gentle poignancy to his tale. Colagiuri adds snippets of background music to Alistair’s monologue at appropriate points, with tunes ranging from Moonlight in Vermont to God Bless the Child, After the Ball is Over, and to Jerome Kern’s and P. G. Wodehouse’s Bill.
Alistair reaches the end of his story, at which point Livermore sings a very fine version of Stephen Sondheim’s Johanna, from Sweeney Todd. Hayes then returned to join Livermore for the bows and a lively medley that included songs of the early part of the 20th Century, OK Toots and Painting the Clouds with Sunshine. This is a very special evening with two phenomenal artists, Australian showbiz legends, and should not be missed.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.