Review – Moonlight and Magnolias, Tricycle Theatre

Wednesday 24 October 2007

Moonlight and MagnoliasThings seem to be going horribly wrong for the Whingers. Or are things going horribly right? They just can’t tell any more. Their raison d’être has been pulled from under their feet; their laws of the universe have been rewritten; their metaphors have melted away; their similes have dried up like… well, we’re not quite sure like what.

We mean, for heaven’s sake! What’s the point of devoting your time to putting the theatrical world to rights if it’s right already? Having given raves (or as near-as-dammit) to Hairspray, Present Laughter and The Final Shot there couldn’t possibly be more satisfaction to come. Could there?

Did the Peruvian altitude affect their minds that much? Could it be the end of the Whingers as you know and love them?

To be fair, Ron Hutchinson’s play Moonlight and Magnolias at the Tricycle looked promising from the start (Kilburn location notwithstanding) and the Whingers went along with high expectations and a genuine American in tow (“The Merm”).

They’d read good things about this one and are both fans of the film. (Andrew’s partial to spending a lonely weekend in a hoop skirt, affecting a southern drawl and uttering the words “fiddle-de-dee”. And he certainly knows nothing about birth and babies, Miss Scarlett.) Mr Hutchinson had even penned the cult 80’s Stephanie Beacham TV show Connie (strangely omitted from his programme biog).

To top it all, Phil had been (literally) moist with anticipation: he’d heard that the writers of GWTW had been locked in a room for 5 days by producer David O. Selznick to come up with a new screenplay with only peanuts and bananas to sustain them. His food on-stage thesis had lacked the required 5-a-day recently and he hadn’t seen a banana consumed on a public stage since Ben Yeo’s Nakamitsu at the Gate. Moonlight and Magnolias even featured a banana on the poster. It didn’t get better than this.

So, anyway: a screwball comedy about the frantic rewriting of the movie classic Gone with the Wind one week into the shoot – what a great idea. Or a stupid one. Rather like the idea of making a film of Margaret Mitchell’s 1,000 page block-buster. Indeed, much of the play’s humour plays on the knowledge that GWTW turns out to be a hit but that of the three people involved in the project only one of them – producer David O Selznick (Andy Nyman) – believes it will be anything but a turkey.

But Hutchinson has nothing to fear on this score – Moonlight and Magnolias is not only a great idea, it’s very skilfully realised.

The writer parachuted in to save the project is none other than Ben Hecht (Duncan Bell) whose wise-cracking gags set alight films such as Roxie Hart and His Girl Friday (in many cases uncredited).

The third man-locked-in-room is Victor Fleming (Steven Pacey), the director that Selznick pulls off the munchkin hell of The Wizard of Oz in order to save GWTW.

Delivered principally as screwball, Hutchinson also brings real issues to the surface such as the colour politics of GWTW; the uncertain position of the Jewish elite in Hollywood (all this taking place on the eve of the second world war).

The direction by Sean Holmes (who is now partly forgiven for The Entertainer) is as slick as a very slick thing (told you about the similes) and there are some good performances. Duncan Bell is particularly effective as Hecht and Josephine Butler is hysterical as Selznick’s secretary Miss Poppenghul (her first dozen or so lines are “Yes, Mr Selznick. Yes, Mr Selznick. No, Mr Selznick” and they are awesomely funny).

Anyway it’s all hilarious, Phil hadn’t laughed this much since Andrew suggested they go and see the revival of Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine at the Almeida.

The staging was great too (the Whingers believe the miraculous appearance of detritus between scenes to be a genuine coup de theatre) and the yellow sweat stains, morning shadow and general dishevelment were very convincing (try ringing Phil ‘s doorbell before 11.30am if you want to check out the verisimilitude).

Was there nothing to Whinge about? Of course there was.

The Tricycle is one of London’s leading exponents of the Whingers’ principal bête noir, unreserved seating. Phil had asked at the box office what this meant. The cheery chappie in the BO window explained helpfully. “The seats are unreserved unless you’ve got a reserved seat.”

Now what did that mean? Well the Tricycle opens its doors at 7.30pm, (for an 8pm start) which means that when you enter the auditorium all the decent seats are taken or occupied by a reserved sign (we’ve no idea who they were for). The Whingers were forced to take seats on one side,which meant that (due to insufficient raking of the seats) not only did they have heads obscuring their view of the stage but a couple of red painted scaffolding poles (the whole auditorium has scaffolding suggesting it’s a travelling space) blocking their view of the stage. Suddenly the National’s Cottesloe seemed like a much loved old friend.

6 Responses to “Review – Moonlight and Magnolias, Tricycle Theatre”

  1. Glad to hear the British incarnation is better than the yawner I saw in San Diego at the Old Globe a couple years back. Great premise, but poor delivery.

  2. Phil – Re: Food on stage thesis. I saw Cloud Nine last night at the Almeida – and a Flake 99 appeared. Couldn’t tell whether it was real or not but thought it deserved a mention.

  3. City Slicker Says:

    Looking forward – going tonight thanks to your ovation.

    Lauren– how was Could Nine? The last Churchill thing I saw put me off. But maybe I was just too stupid to get it so am happy to try again.

  4. Thanks for that update Lauren. Phil’s now thinking we should give it a shot. I have to say, I can’t remember a Flake 99 appearing on stage before.

    @ City Slicker – oh, Goodness, don’t go to M&M on our recommendation. You should know better than that by now.

  5. Ted Kraus Says:

    Took my group of serious theatre buffs to Moonlight and they
    thought it the funniest show ever. I have not laughed as
    hard at anything since the first Noises Off at the National.
    I laughed just as hard the second time round.

  6. oh – and a much belated reply to CitySlicker re: Cloud nine – it is a bit ho hum. Great performances but nothing that would make me run to the box office in a frenzy to grab a ticket. (Nor so exciting that one might put mind to review it on the blog).

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