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Review: Ladies in Black – sheer entertainment

Glamour in store. Below right: Madeleine Jones as Patty and her husband Frank (Tamlyn Henderson).

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: January 28-February 19. Running time: two hours 30 minutes including interval. Bookings at or 136246

What more could you want? Fantastic costumes, wonderful music, terrific acting, and vocals, aided by a top class five-piece band and the best sound levels I have ever heard for a musical in the Playhouse Theatre. 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.

This show is sheer entertainment with 30-odd songs written brilliantly with humour and pathos to fit character and situation by Tim Finn. I found the lyric content truly remarkable and in most cases was matched by the music. Andrew Hallsworth’s dance choreography was sharp and clever.

Somehow Carolyn Burns’ script not only captured the essence of the late 1950s, but also managed to turn some fairly clichéd situations into genuinely emotional experiences. Father forbids daughter, bitterness erupts and finally they are reconciled; the browbeaten childless wife and husband split and once again are reconciled and the “good time girl” considered “on the shelf” at 29 who, after desperately searching for love, eventually finds it. So simple and obvious, but so well done to create a reality.

I was around in those times, albeit in the UK, (where I once had a shop-girl girlfriend) but the situations and people resonated and invoked memories of the times.

The show is set close to Christmas in Sydney. We meet Lisa Miles, 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 – Goode’s. There she meets a trio of women, Patty, Fay, and Magda who open her eyes to the wider world and to the beauty of haute couture!

The story is about the 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.

The whole cast was faultless in characterisation and vocal delivery. Every word of the lyrics was clearly enunciated, which helped enormously with the progression of the plotline.

Lisa is nicely played this time around by Sarah Morrison and the larger than life Hungarian, Magda was milked to her continental core by Natalie Gamsu – it was a pleasure to watch her ring in the New Year at her glamorous party.

Her very loving husband Stefan was played by Greg Stone, who switched neatly from European accent to broad Australia as Lisa’s Dad. He was completely different in each role – it was fun too, to see him make his curtain call with both of his “wives”.

Bobby Fox, was great as the exuberant “continental” searching for an Australian wife and Ellen Simpson was brilliant as Fay the eventual object of his desire, I loved her solo I Kissed a Continental. Another special mention goes to Madeleine Jones as Patty. She is childless after ten years of marriage, is treated like a drudge by her husband Frank (Tamlyn Henderson) who gets the shock of his life when it is discovered that he is the sterile partner in the marriage. They do a great duet with I Can’t Be the Man.

Top of the pops in the show was probably He’s a Bastard, a tongue-in-cheek attack on men sung with conviction by the women in the store. But there were so many great songs it was hard to pick a winner. I liked them all from the opening I Got it at Goode’s to Ladies in Black, Lisa's lovely Fountain, Sales Talk - Pandemonium was huge fun too.

I missed the last run because I was sick, but am so glad I got to see this one. I loved the show and can’t see any reason, despite its Australian setting why I couldn’t be a hit in London’s West End. There wasn’t much cultural difference in those days.

Above: I Kissed a Continental, Below: He's a Bastard

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