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Stage Whispers - By Coral Drouyn 8th November 2014

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If Einstein had been a theatre reviewer his theory of Entertainment would have read E = MTC2 ….squared because the M becomes MM, which stands for Miriam Margolyes. Like a spectacular and dazzling supernova she draws the audience into her orbit and holds them there, in thrall, for 90 minutes of sublime entertainment. Whilst John Logan’s play is actually no more than a heavily anecdotal monologue, it matters not – it is, after all, no more than fodder - fuel for a great actress to show us her “chops”. And show us she does.

She re-creates the famous Hollywood power agent, Sue Mengers, holding court in her Hollywood Hills home on an evening of one of her famous dinner parties, while she waits for a phone call from Barbra (“I knew her when she had the extra A”) Streisand, whose lawyers have fired her. Draped on a L shaped lounge, in a blue and aqua Kaftan with a beaded neckline….dark roots showing in the blonde hair ( a masterful touch) she drinks too much, smokes too much, gets stoned, and holds court; a queen who knows her abdication or execution is inevitable.

In true American Schmaltzy fashion she reminisces about her origins as an Austrian Jew child; her playboy father who “died of thwarted dreams”; and all the stars “My Twinklies,” whom she has made and re-invented. She self deprecates, and turns the laughs upon herself, as when she describes descending on Arthur Friedkin’s house “like a Valkyrie in heat” to get Gene Hackman The French Connection …or a description of a star looking like “Kermit The Frog thinking about Auschwitz”. Then there is the profanity, but it’s so natural in Mengers’ world that even when MM rails against “that c**nt Steve McQueen” it’s no more offensive than calling him a “nasty man”.

Margolyes almost channels Mengers, and yet she adds a Quixotic element worthy of Mengers “Twinklies”. At times she looks at us with a slightly twisted mouth and a “WTF” expression – as if daring us NOT to laugh. At others, the expression reminds one of Dame Edna in full flight. She’s playing to an audience, but only because that’s exactly what Mengers did every day of her “stardom”. Her timing is impeccable; every nuance is perfection. She barely moves for the entire play, and yet frenetic energy abounds. Logan’s writing can be trite when funny and maudlin when serious – yet MM finds the bitter subtext in the comedy and genuine poignancy beneath the bathos.

It is a superb performance and her often clipped Oxford tones are magnificently transformed by dialogue coach Leith McPherson. Never once does the accent and dialect falter….you can hear NYC Bronx Jewish under the softer layers of Pasadena West Coast, a masterful achievement. Dean Bryant, more restrained than usual, has gentled his star to this performance, not allowing it to get out of hand and over excessive (Mengers as a character is excessive enough) and yet allowing her the freedom to be still and just perform through the words, without extravagant and un-necessary movement.

Owen Phillips’ set is a masterpiece….almost elegant and tasteful….but not quite; so true to character. Ross Graham’s lighting is fabulous… especially the white shadow of a palm tree behind the scrim window, lit by garden lights and blowing in white silhouette. Russell Goldsmith’s sound design is equally excellent. But it’s Margolyes and Mengers – melded into one fantastical over the top ‘Bitch with a Heart of Gold’ – who makes us stand and cheer for more. It doesn’t matter that anyone under 60 won’t know many of the actors she references; we love them because Mengers loved them. This is the best value for money entertainment that MTC has offered in a very long while.
Coral Drouyn Photographer: Jeff Busby.

Posted : 8th November 2014

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