THROUGH THE MILL
by Ray Rackham.
London Theatre Workshop above the Eel Brook Pub 65 New Kings Road SE6 4SG To 19 December 2015.
Tue-Sat 8pm. Mat Sat 3pm & Sun 5pm.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.
Review: William Russell 4 December.
Lovely material about love for Judy.
The prospect of another theatrical wallow in the sad life of Judy Garland is not one that appeals, but there is no denying Ray Rackham has created a thoroughly engrossing, well-crafted play about the Hollywood studio system’s most celebrated victim.
One would have thought Peter Quilter’s End of The Rainbow had said all that needed to be said. That, however, focused on her in decline in London. Rackham has opted instead to look at her life at three different times – as a child starlet in thrall to MGM and her dreadful mother; as a fallen star married to Sid Luft while making her comeback in concert at the Palace; and as a star again, possibly in the ascendant, making her television shows.
Three different actresses play her, and the events of her life are mixed to form one whole. You see what she was, what she became and why her life was an endless quest for love and filled with demands to be loved.
The result is hugely impressive, although some judicious cutting would improve things. One gets tired of the repetitive bickering the pill-popping, neurotic Judy has with her TV producers and directors. Did one really need to know that starlet Judy had a father who liked little boys? But the three actresses who play her give splendid performances.
Lucy Penrose, Young Judy, is deeply touching as the MGM studio system ruins her life, Belinda Wollaston belts out the numbers as the Palace Judy with great style, and Helen Sheals as the TV Judy is marvellously neurotic and sad. Their singing, if not quite up to Garland standards, rises to the occasion, although they could not wish for better material and at the end all three join in singing the inevitable ‘Over The Rainbow’.
Harry Anton as Sid Luft and Amanda Bailey as Ethel Gumm, the show-business mother from hell, are also outstanding and there is a splendid band with a great big sound to relish. Max Reynolds has directed with style, but he and Rackham should get the scissors out and cut the repetition of points already made.
CBS Judy: Helen Sheals.
Palace Judy: Belinda Wollaston.
Young Judy: Lucy Penrose.
Frank Gumm: Joe Shefer.
Ethel Gumm: Amanda Bailey.
Roger Edens: Tom Elliot Reade.
L B Mayer: Don Cotter.
Sid Luft: Harry Anton.
Hunt Stromberg Jr: Rob Carter.
George Schlatter: Perry Meadowcroft.
Norman Jewison: Chris McGuigan.
Judith Kramer: Carmella Brown.
The Stranger: Christopher Weaver.
Director: Max Reynolds.
Designer/Digital: Johnson Williams Design (Justin Williams).
Lighting: Jordan Lightfoot.
Sound: Ed Shaw.
Musical Arranger/Supervisor: Simon Holt.
Musical Supervisor during the run: Peter Dodsworth.
Choreographer: Chris Whittaker.
Costume: Millie Hobday, Evie Holdcroft.