BombshellsJoanna Murray-Smith’s Bombshells was originally produced (snapped-up, practically, as soon as published) for the 04 Ed. Fringe, by MTC: an auspicious start in life, for a fine play, founded on the imagined lives of six ‘femme fatales’.

These femme fatales, however, probably don’t have a destructive effect on anyone but themselves; subject, as modern women are, to a relentless barrage of self-critical thoughts and self-effacing remarks. And yet, they are irresistibly attractive, since, while occupying very divergent positions in life, they’re all women doing their very best and making the very most of what they’ve got.

Director, of this production, Jennie Bazell, for Hunters Hill Theatre (which, I’m ‘shamed to say, I’ve never had the distinct pleasure of attending, or making a point to do so, until last Saturday), was left in the lurch, in the former church, which is the home of HHT, when one of her fatales fell over, the night before opening; and then there were five.

That, alone, would be enough to ruffle the feathers of a much more experienced director, let alone first-timer, Ms B. But the show must go on, and it did, kicking-off with Leoni Ryan-Ebbs, as Meryl Davenport, suburban mother; predictably, juggling and (just) managing the duties, obligations and privileges of consort, housekeeper, mother, and so on, admirably, in our estimation, if not hers. Leoni played it with almost demonic neurotic relish; just this side of histrionic. For mine, the script, for this character, is a little drawn-out, and not every single word is worth hanging on, so it could’ve benefited from some judicious pruning, here-and-there. Still and all, Ms Ryan-Ebbs got into the rhythm and spirit of her particular slice-of-life; little doubt, driven by the irrepressible (even on first meeting) enthusiasm and commitment of her determined and personable director.

Ros Richards channelled anything-but-prickly cactophile, Tiggy Entwistle, abandoned life partner, poignantly, and courageously, grappling with the lonely, daunting prospect of an autumnal hiatus, or whole future, as a singleton. Ms Richards evoked every hint of boiled-lolly sweetness a Tiggy Entwistle simply must.

We missed (but not sorely, since this magnum opus silk stocking of doubly ‘exy’ chromosomal proportions was handled so well as to betray no holes) the talents of Danielle Gabriel, who, if not for the fickle finger of fate, would’ve played teenage talent, Mary O’Donnell, but were jolted to arresting attention by the ‘defrocked’ bride-to-be, Sacha Marie Curtis, as Theresa McTerry, who, in not entirely dissimilar vein to the energised, type A delivery of mother Meryl, was transfixing.

After interval, Lynn Trainor breathtakingly related an unlikely(?!) senior sexual adventure; a wickedly wanton widow’s way, with an, apparently, much younger, blind man, for whom she was charged with the otherwise respectable duty of reading. But to loosen the tongue-in-cheekiness for a moment, this confronting vignette is, arguably, on paper, at least, the piece de resistance; if played slightly falteringly and with the distraction of some ill-placed classical pianoforte.

But the jaw-dropping scene stealer was, unquestionably, Deirdre Lee’s aging diva, Zoe Struthers, a flawlessly high-camp synthesis of Garland, Reynolds, you-name-her. Indeed, this performance was so overwhelmingly brilliant, I could barely believe I was sitting in a staid Sydney suburb, rather than, say, the Imperial Hotel, or Opera House studio.

I didn’t have the fortune to see Caroline O’Connor’s original presentation, in which she, probably effortlessly, crossed the boundaries between all these heroines, but I can’t imagine Ms Lee gave anything away to even O’Connor’s illustrious pedigree.

Moreover, Bazell’s uncompromisingly brave decision to potentially fragment the show, by using a bevy of performers, has been very roundly vindicated: the proof was in this fat and satisfying pudding, well-worthy of seconds!

I’ll not, in conclusion, be accused of leaving out backstage crew: unfortunately, I have to say, I was rather underwhelmed by set and lighting, which were adequate (damnation with feint praise; unchallenging stage management, too, was, well, slick enough), save for some deftly synchronous spot work, for Ms Struthers, but was rather more taken by Gay Shannon’s wardrobe, which showed almost as much empathy and affectionate humour as the script itself. All in all, on the strength of this production alone, HHT deserves to be a little more centre-stage.

Hunters Hill Theatre presents
by Joanna Murray-Smith

13 Margaret Street, Woolwich
18 May - 2 June 2007
Thurs - Sat @ 8pm; Matinees Sat & Sun @ 2.30pm
$22 full/$19 for seniors and concessions and 10+ groups
9879 7765

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