Ladies in Black
By Carolyn Burns
Based on the novel The Women in Black by Madeleine St John
Music and Lyrics by Tim Finn
Directed by Loic Valmy
Brisbane Arts Theatre
Season: 9 August to 7 September. Running time: two hours 30 minutes including interval. Bookings: www.artstheatre.com.au or (07) 3369 2344
Ladies in Black is set in 1950s Sydney and tells the story of bookish school leaver, Lisa Miles, who has landed a job at the fashionable department store, F.G. Goode’s as a shop assistant over the busy Christmas/New Year period in the cocktail dress department. Over the six week period that changes her life, Lisa is taken under the wing of the more experienced assistants, Patty and Fay, before coming to the attention of Madga who looks after the model gown department.
The show opens with the feisty signature song, Ladies in Black, sung by the shop assistants and floor manager, Mrs Cartwright, from which Lisa was told that black never goes out of fashion, is a power colour, and therefore we are not women to be messed with. While the show was set in the store in the main, it also revolved around each lady and their lives outside of work. This then led into the ladies singing I Got It at Goode’s describing the fashion must-haves available.
Jordan Boyd as Lisa was a delightful mix of youthful innocence and rebel as she awaits her leaving certificate results and dreams of going on to university to study literature. Magda takes a shine to Lisa and requests her assistance in the model gown department where Lisa falls in love with a ball gown by Lisette, however the price tag of 150 guineas is out of her league.
Laura Fois’s portrayal of Magda was an absolute hoot right down to the Hungarian accent. She was a feisty little package and I particularly liked the New Year party scene where she was being the hostess with the ‘mostess’ and making sure everyone was paired up, enjoying themselves and not getting too drunk.
Hannah Kassulke as Fay, an almost thirty single lady, who has been out with too many ‘handy’ Australian men on blind dates arranged by her friend, Myra, was equally delightful in her role. Her solo, I Just Kissed a Continental, was lovely, and the culmination that after so many heartbreaks that here is the one she was looking for all along.
Jessica Ham was Patty who has been married for 10 years and is still childless. Recent tests show that the problem lies with her husband, Frank (Tristan Ham). After Patty buys a rather risqué black nightie to spice things up at home and a torrid afternoon with Frank, Frank walks out thinking he has done wrong by her. This led to probably the best, and funniest song in the show, Standard Issue Bastard, which all the women in the audience could relate to.
The other lead male in the show was Damien Campagnolo, who doubled as Lisa’s strict father, Mr Miles, and as Magda’s husband, Stefan. He was great in both roles, but I preferred him as the loving, cuddly Stefan.
The songs range from Broadway-type numbers to blues/jazz, with witty lyrics. Jordan Boyd had a lovely, clear voice, but for me Jessica Ham was a standout, with her strong vocals. The whole cast blended well across the musical numbers and was accompanied by a band tucked up into the stage rafters.
The set-up of the store was reminiscent of the 1970s BBC television series Are you being served (without the men’s department). Kirily Jago as costume designer had her work cut out for her keeping all the costumes to period as well as the extras on the two racks in the store. The costumes when the ladies weren’t in black were colourful and the bathing suits for the beach scene were equally reminiscent of the era. Each black costume was also slightly different for each character, but perfectly attuned to that character.
At times, the stage was split in half to accommodate two scenes, as two or more characters were telling their story. Tables, chairs, bookcases, racks of clothing, store counters whizzed on and off, and I particularly liked the back lit screen where shadow scenarios took place.
Some of the technical difficulties which postponed the show for a week were still there with the microphones going up and down in level. A pregnant pause occurred at the end of the show to allow for costume changes as the band began playing and the ladies came back on to finish with another rendition of Ladies in Black, this time with the men dressed in cocktail black as well.
Overall, this is an enjoyable show with a talented cast, great musical numbers and Australian grown with the choreography (Michelle Radu) well done for each number.