Left – Christen O'Leary and Bobby Fox. Cover – Kathryn McIntyre, Kate Cole, Christen O’Leary, Naomi Price, Lucy Maunder, Deidre Rubenstein and Carita Farrer Spencer. Photos – Rob Maccoll
It's always pleasing to see a new Australian musical work make it to the stage and hit a few marks.
Melbourne Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company can only be congratulated on joining forces and investing their pool of talent in a show such as Ladies in Black.
Based on Madeleine St John's novel The Women in Black, the idea to transfer the story into a musical was initiated by music legend Tim Finn (who has written the music and lyrics). Jumping on board was director Simon Phillips and writer Carolyn Burns.
The light, but captivating, almost fairy-tale story is set in Sydney in the late 1950s. Against the backdrop of a nation and a city growing up and discovering itself, the plot centres on a young girl (Lisa) entering the workforce at a prestigious department store while dreaming of a career as a poet. The parallels with Lisa discovering herself and changing are obvious.
Finn and collaborators have compiled a very pleasant and even charming piece of theatre. The drama is kept to a minimum, with Ladies in Black presenting a very 'nice' version of Australia back then – there is no negative reaction to multiculturalism here – with the foreign characters referred to affectionately as 'Continentals'.
The tunes are suitably easy to listen to, embracing gentle ballads (such as Tomorrow becomes Today) to the more playful, fun crowd-pleasers such as I Just Kissed a Continental and He's a Bastard.
Burns' script injects a lot of humour into the storyline and gives almost all the characters and actors lots to work with. The clever inclusion of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina gets one of the bigger laughs in the show.
The company of talented actors mostly play multiple characters and form an impressive ensemble, with Sarah Morrison particularly charming as Lisa, Greg Stone impressive as Mr Miles and Stefan, and Naomi Price memorable as Fay.
Gabriela Tylesova's simple but effective design makes use of three revolves that change scenes efficiently, while maintaining the look and feel of the department store, the show's main setting. Her costumes, especially the more glamorous gowns, are quite stunning, and are a major highlight in the show.
Guy Simpson's orchestrations and musical supervision complement the catchy songs that Tim Finn has devised.
Ladies in Black may not delve to deeply, but it does manage to effectively and affectionately convey a past era of our history, and while it focusses on the restraints placed on women of the time, it subtly mentions that men were also victims of a time and class structure.
Melbourne Theatre Company presents
A Queensland Theatre Company Production
Ladies in Black
book by Carolyn Burns | songs by Tim Finn
Directed by Simon Phillips
Venue: Southbank Theatre, The Sumner
Dates: 16 January – 27 February 2016
Bookings: 03 8688 0800 | mtc.com.au