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Review - Ladies in Black: music, movement and fabulous frocks

Above: Naomi Price, Lucy Maunder and Christen O'Leary

Right: Christen O'Leary and Sarah Morrison

Ladies in Black

Book by Carolyn Burns

Music and lyrics by Tim Finn

Based on the novel The Women in Black by Madeleine St John

Directed by Simon Phillips

Queensland Theatre Company/QPAC production

Playhouse Theatre

Queensland Performing Arts Centre

South Bank


Season: November 14-December 6. Bookings at or 136246

Tim Finn and Carolyn Burns have done the rarest thing in theatre. They have created a homemade musical that is a dead set winner, with memorable songs that slotted into the storyline and carried it along. Top marks to Tim Finn.

Opening night was a magical swirl of music, colour, movement, and fabulous frocks.

This was helped along by the fabulous 1950s fashions, designed by Gabriela Tilesova, her magnificent set that included triple revolves and extremely effective lighting from David Walters.

As a former “shop girl” (Myer Melbourne, but a little later than the 1950s) this was a walk down memory lane. As the set opened I was instantly transported back to the department store of my youth. Things had changed, but judging by this show. Not that much. Men were still men and women expected to know their place, but things were changing.

It is nearing Christmas in the late 1950’s in Sydney. We meet Lisa Milne, played by Sarah Morrison, a very bright, shy young girl who loves her books and poetry. She has just completed her final year at school and has big dreams. Meanwhile she applies and is successful in obtaining work as a Christmas casual in the cocktail dress department of Sydney’s most prestigious department store. There she meets women who open her eyes to the wider world and to the beauty of dresses! The story is about the three women and Lisa.

The story unfolds when Lisa starts her first day and the department store girls are a little cold with the shy girl who professes she wants to become a poet. But as time passes and they all work well together they open up to her about their own lives.

I was drawn to Patty, played by Lucy Maunder. She is a strong elegant woman who is married to Frank, played by Andrew Broadbent. They have been trying unsuccessfully to have a child for 10 years and are drifting apart. Frank has a solo that includes many references to drinking lots of whisky, and the male toilets is both funny and poignant. You just have to see it to understand what I mean.

When Patty and Frank have a fight the “Show Stopper Song” is He’s a Bastard is sung by Patty and her Mum and two sisters. They use the tea set as extra percussion instruments and it was a huge audience pleaser.

When Frank and Patty meet up again, the song about how they can become a couple again was so cleverly crafted. The lyrics used every day words and strongly told you of their feelings and what they wanted from each other and again the sarcastic Aussie humour was prevalent.

Fay played by Naomi Price, was a character that resonated with many in the audience. She is 29, single, had many bad relationships with Aussie blokes, and was wondering if she would ever meet “the One”, or would she have to compromise.

When she does meet someone special, Rudi, played by Bobby Fox, the scene was just breathtaking, followed by the hilarious song She Just Kissed a Continental!

The Hungarians were my favourite though. They are the refugees who love being “Aussie”. Magna, played by Christen O’Leary, was a brilliant characterisation. She was the warm and exuberant lady of the designer clothes department and is known as the crazy continental. She befriends Lisa and invites her to her home to meet her husband Stephan, played by Greg Stone, who is also a lover of books and literature.

The New Years Scene, an energised monologue delivered by Magna is superb.

With her own words, and gestures, aided by a scrim and shadows behind she seemed to fill the stage with party guests as she welcomed them one by one. I felt I knew and saw everyone there in the room. The dancing in this scene was wonderful too.

Each story of each character draws a picture of how things were changing for women in the 50’s.

I was entranced by how the stage moved and to me created a magical sense to the story of the “Good Old Days” It moved seamlessly from the homes of the characters to the department store, to back onto the street with ease and gentle flowing movements. A wonderful feat of choreography.

The music performed by the live six piece band is placed behind the sheer curtains.

It’s great, heart-warming, happy ending sort of show that deserves huge audiences.

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