Veronica lives on! [by Sharu Delilkan]
Alex Ellis has got the whole package – the petite frame, platinum blonde hair and Veronica Lake’s signature peek-a-boo bangs, which became a phenomenon in the 1940s.
She may be a lot taller than Lake was in real life (5 ft 11 in instead of 5 ft 2 in) but that doesn’t detract from the image that we have of the big screen’s famous blonde bombshell.
Ellis oozes sultriness, sex and seductivenessas soon as you walk into the theatre doors,greeting you with her back to the audience.
Her plunging back coupled with the dramatic flounce of her body hugging dress draped for metres around her feet on the floor creates the ‘lake-like’ metaphor signifying the ‘Drowning in Veronica Lake’. Sara Taylor’s costume is brilliantly executed and bears the hallmark of her mentor,costume designer extraordinaire Elizabeth Whiting.
During the show I couldn’t help scrutinizing the garment in its different personas, compliments of Nik Janiurek’s exquisite mood lighting, only to realise that despite the rich look of the garment it’s been made entirely out of calico – cheap unbleached not fully-processed cotton. An innovative economic decision that proves you can indeed make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
Congratulations to director Simon Coleman for expertly re-interpreting the multiple and conflicting versions of the movie star’s life story.
The minimal yet definitively dramatic set (which is basically her dress) accentuates the live performer playing a has-been movie star, who’s desperate to reclaim her screen siren status.
Clearly I can’t say enough about the dress. But I have to mention the dress’ clever use where it’s wringed and tangled each time Ellis turns away from the crowd creating yet another fabulous metaphor of her trapped life which she dreaded.
Writer Phil Ormsby should be especially proud of his smartly crafted script, riddled with memorable one-liners, which are a constant source of humour. Personal favourites include “I took to motherhood like a duck to vodka” and “More irony than a scrap yard”.
Jamie Linehan’s choice of background music as well as the all too familiar sound of paparazzi cameras clicking away punctuate the show, adding a third dimension.
Elli’s rendition of Lake is evident that her legacy is alive and definitely kicking.
It’s not long before it becomes glaringly obvious that Constance Frances Marie Ockelmanaka Lake despises her out-going glamorous persona, which is depicted as a major contributor to self-destruction and ultimately her downward spiral to a scandalous tragic end.
Watching her flit between Lake and her mother, with the heavy Brooklyn accent, as well as occasionally doing impressions of her Hungarian husband, is reminiscent of her previous one-woman shows Biscuit and Coffee as well as Murder by Chocolate where she played numerous characters effortlessly. This is also beautifully complemented by her schizophrenic characterisation of Veronica whichis revealed as her story unravels.
Ellis seems perfectly at ease and is able to keep the audience captivated throughout the 60-minute performance – a length that seemed perfect because of the play’s intensity.
She skilfully takes the audience, with the support of Ormsby’s eloquent script, on a highly emotive journey that’s both touching and real. Sometimes a bit ‘too real’ making people visibly squirm in their seats due to its harsh reality.
The show’s messages are loud and clear – ‘all that glitters is not gold’ and ‘be careful what you wish for, lest it comes true’.
Highly recommended on all levels – for the acting, directing, dramatic costume and script.
An absolute must see in my books. But who am I to judge for as Lake says “Who remembers critics anyway”…
Drowning in Veronica Lake plays as part of the Auckland Fringe Festival at The Basement until March 8th.
More information at the Auckland Fringe Website.