Grey Gardens | SquabbalogicLeft – Maggie Blinco and Beth Daly. Cover – Maggie Blinco. Photos – Michael Francis

We have often been told ‘The truth will set you free”. But I am far more a fan of great storytelling. And for me it was the more fictional elements of the musical version of Grey Gardens that took flight. And it was not what I expected to happen.

The first act is a work of fiction albeit drawn from fact, and also referencing the subsequent cult movie version, and is a skillfully drawn series of character studies interwoven with engaging songs and a compelling narrative.

The second act is “the truth” – with vast portions that recreate the documentary source material that inspired both the film and musical that followed.

I found myself asking the Rozencrantz and Guildernstern question.

Does it work if you haven’t seen Hamlet? This piece evokes similar issues. Does the source material hinder the drama rather than release it? I had seen the documentary, but my companion who knew nothing of the genesis of the work was dumbfounded by the stylistic gear change between the acts.

We both liked the first act. A lot.

In the second, I feel the actors are bound by the obligation to mimic – and they do it extraordinarily well. Eerily so – the likeness is astounding and better than the film. Act 2 was greeted with laughs of recognition and respect for such an accurate rendition, but as it drew on, the audience became quieter and more subdued as the story line worked its way to the inevitable conclusion anyone who has seen the source material was anticipating.

And bizarrely it is not as satisfying as the fiction. Huge kudos for the writers creative imagination perhaps but it makes for a rocky journey for the uninitiated.

But that is – if you’ll excuse the pun – my only squabble with the work. The production is good and the performances are something you really should see.

I left Squabbalogics Mystery Musical earlier this year wowed by the talent, and this show repeats that with clever casting and really impressive performers.

And this somewhat strangely contributes to the drop off in the second act.

While the entire ensemble is strong, I simply did not want to let go of the gorgeous voices and assured presences of Blake Erikson as Gould, Simon McLachlan as Joe and most particularly Caitlin Berry as Little Edie. Berry was the highlight of my evening, glowing with that rather ephemeral star quality, and the two guys have voices I could listen to all night. Sure they all come back in a somewhat Greek chorus style in Act 2 but it just wasn’t enough for this punter.

Maggie Blinko turns in a convincing, touching version of Act 2 Big Edie, but it is Beth Daly’s show, playing Big Edie in the first half then changing to Little Edie in the second. Left to her own devices, the first act was a mesmerizing character study. Once she was harnessed into the source material by Act 2, I began to disengage from the story and began admiring her amazing technique instead. While I surprisingly found her strident mother ultimately more interesting than her taught and tragic daughter, it certainly has nothing to do with her skill but rather the structure of the work.

The music under the baton of Hayden Barltrop is effective in this small space, and there are some gorgeous frocks! But I found the set and lighting design distracting at times as characters moved through various ponds of light in spaces that never really appeared to be big enough to fit the action. The subdued lighting of the second act became dangerously somnolent in parts.

But overall this is a unique and fascinating show, and director Jay James Moody shows a skillful knowledge of the material and a deft hand with character. The score is clever, the lyrics are both witty and heartfelt, and the performers are stellar. But it might be wise if you reference the source material lightly before attending.

Squabbalogic presents
book Doug Wright | lyrics Michael Korie | music Scott Frankel

Director Jay James-Moody

Venue: Reginald Theatre | Seymour Centre NSW
Dates: 18 November – 12 December, 2015
Tickets: $59 – $30
Bookings: | (02) 9351 7940.

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