Left - Stephen Lovatt and Patrick Brammall. Cover - Nicholas Hammond, Patrick Brammall and Stephen Lovatt. Photos - Jeff Busby
Gone with the Wind is a film above all others. A staggering four-hour long epic, the movie is litigated with famous lines, references and characters that have all been etched into our memories – regardless of whether one has seen the film or not. It‘s almost hard to believe that despite its enormous success, this movie was in dire straits only three weeks into shooting. Playwright Ron Hutchinson has crafted a clever piece of theatre out of this well-known story and in doing so, has breathed a whole new breath of life into the three men who were in fact, the creators of this movie.
The premise of the story is simple. With the scene set in 1939, producer David O Selznick has just halted shooting on Gone with the Wind costing him a staggering $50,000 a day. Desperate to fix his ailing script troubles, he locks himself, Hollywood scriptwriter Ben Hecht along with Wizard of Oz director Victor Fleming into his office for a five-day mission of re writing the script, consuming nothing other than bananas and peanuts. What follows is a hilarious week, wherein three men are driven to the point of exhaustion and hallucination, all in order to produce a script that will, according to Fleming ‘be one of the biggest white elephants of all time.’
Most facts in this production are very similar to the real life events that played out. Hecht had never read the epic novel - ‘I read the first page’ - which consequently led to Selznick (taking on the lead of Scarlett O’Hara) and Fleming acting the story out for him. The constant flippant remarks between Hecht and Fleming that the movie will eventuate into a flop are also acutely true, ensuring a vast amount of ironic comedy throughout. Scoffing at the setting of the movie - ‘Forget it, no movie in the Civil War ever made a dime’ - Hecht instead opted out of any screenwriting credits for the film that went onto win eight academy awards.
Hutchinson has written an uproarious play, in which his actors can flex their skills on a wide range of levels. He has created a world for them that is more than an example of the era, or a lead up to a blockbuster or a business meeting turned slightly chaotic. He paints these characters as real people, complete within securities and expectations. More importantly, he paints their creative passion and drive. Played superbly by Patrick Brammall, David O Selznick is represented as an over-controlling, yet fiercely passionate fighter who is prepared to put everything on the line for his work. His consistent strong belief in this film drives his actions, and thus succeeds in raising the stakes even higher. This is the story of a man risking everything for his dream – his dignity, his reputation and his marriage. Nicholas Hammond does a brilliant job as Ben Hecht, a guilt-ridden Jew caught in the seductive and tempting world of Hollywood. His constant ramblings about the mistreatment of Jews all over the world gave the production an extra edge of tension and relevance. Stephen Lovatt channels the charismatic Victor Fleming down to a fine point, with some of the play’s funniest lines and references to the actors and actresses of that era. And Marg Downey provides extra comic relief as she rounds out the cast as the efficient, yet long-suffering Miss Poppenghul, secretary to Selznick.
Director Bruce Beresford, of the Oscar-winning ‘Driving Miss Daisy’, ensures a perfect balance throughout the play - that of physical slapstick humour combined with the serious, well-developed issues of the play. The production design by Shaun Gurton was immaculate with its attention to detail, grounding 1939 into reality for the actors and audience. The world that was created by both Beresford and Gurton became addictive to watch, enticing to hear about and thoroughly identifiable. And Peter Farnan would have gone to town with his sound design heard over Selznick’s dot point reading of the finished script, prompting howls of laughter at this interpretation of the movie.
The strongest card in the production was that the end result was always certain – whether humorous or not. Despite the adamant refusals and balking at the ‘this isn’t an ending line!’ lines, one already knows of the dizzying success of the film. And despite Selznick’s ongoing dismissal about the fate of the European Jews, one also knows of The Holocaust and devastation looming.
This was a fine production from Beresford and one that was whole-heartedly enjoyed, and most certainly highly recommended by the opening night crowd.
Melbourne Theatre Company presents
Moonlight and Magnolias
by Ron Hutchinson
Venue: the Arts Centre, Playhouse
Dates: 21 February to 28 March
Opening night: Thursday 26 February at 8:00pm
Tickets: From $58.20 (Under 30s – $30)
Bookings: MTC Theatre Box Office 03 8688 0888 or mtc.com.au