Photos – Jacqui Munn
First and foremost, don’t miss it!
Born Yesterday will surely be a contender for the show of the year when the reckoning comes – for several good reasons – starting with the play itself. Written by Garson Kanin it was first performed in 1945 and has bells ringing for not only present-day America but no doubt for every nation in the world and certainly including Australia. We are talking big, big money to be had for the canny, unscrupulous entrepreneur willing and ready to spread it around into the pockets of those in high places who can smooth the path of shady deals. For an in-depth and absorbing history of the play and other interesting material, do buy a programme, its comprehensive notes devised by Rob Croser. It is appropriate that it all takes place in the Presidential suite of the Hotel Statler in Washington, its walls bedecked with large solemn portraits of Washington, Roosevelt, Lincoln and Jefferson, revered representatives of the land of the free.
The smart set is designed by David Roach and Rob Croser and the lighting designed by Bob Weatherly who is also Stage manager. The costumes under the care of Sandra Davis are just right for the era and those for Billie simply stunning. Then there is no character in it that does not carry its own imprint, giving actors the chance to shine, with the whole coalescing under the brilliant direction of the oh-so-dependable Rob Croser. The play pivots on its main characters, Harry Brock and Billie Dawn and they have to be very good to carry their demanding roles to conviction – and Stuart Pearce and Madeleine Herd are very, very good. One of the noticeable things about the Independent Theatre is that if you look at the production credits you’ll see that each show is the work of a group of people doing multiple tasks and there is a sense of involvement that is reflected in the co-ordination of the whole to the benefit of its audiences.
Harry Brockman, self-made (“Nobody give me nothing!”), wealthy, big bully boy fills the stage in a garish, gaudy purple striped suit and red socks, loud in dress and voice. On tap is his elderly cousin, abused general dogsbody, Eddie Brock (Greg Janzow); his often inebriated once high in legal echelons, lawyer, Ed Devery (David Roach) good for a push in the face once in a while; Senator Norval Hedges (David Rapkin), his status no protection against Harry’s verbal abuse. And there’s Harry’s girl friend, Billie Dawn (Madeleine Herd).
Harry deals in junk, scrap iron and particularly steel and over 25 years has made a fortune – “I’m the top guy in my racket.” Now, at the end of WW2 he’s looking to bring over to America (where it came from) a great deal of armoury lying around in Europe. There’s just a little matter of American law that prevents him from doing that. Hence, the Senator and the lawyer. Lackeys all. Well, not quite. There’s one who lets all the threats slide off like rain on a duck’s back, managing him (“Harry’s not so bad”), shrugging off the demands, threats and cruel demeaning vocal abuse, on the grounds that she has everything she wants, including two mink coats. Harry uses Billie to money launder and evade tax by putting many of his junk yards in her name and for the services she provides in bed. She is perky, stands up to him at times but is in the end compliant, good looking, very smartly and beautifully dressed and as dumb as a broad can be with no interest in how he makes his money. Perfect for a man who has a lot to hide. But then, thinking of even better times ahead, he decides that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to make her more socially presentable to the big wigs he expects to encounter by having her tutored by a bright and knowledgeable journalist who lives close by, to whom he’s just given an interview. “She might not like the idea,” Paul Verrall (Jonathan Johnston) says. “She’ll do what I tell ‘er” is the sharp response. His bubble gum blowing mate is reluctant to say the least and they discuss it over a delightful-to-watch game of gin rummy. “You could do with a little education yourself, if you ask me.” “Who asked you?” “Nobody”. “Then shut up.”
The classes are on and Paul has a challenge. “The proper study of mankind is man” he quotes. “Who said that?” “Pope.” “The Pope!”
“What is a peninsula?” “A new kind of medicine?
She starts listening to classical music. “I’m listening to Sigh-bee-lous”
He teaches her a little history. Harry interrupts. “What the hell you learning her about dead people for?” The beautiful worm is turning. “Don’t mind him. He’s always lived at the top of his voice.”
And when she reminds Harry he gets stuff on the cheap, he retorts. “I don’t own nothing cheap – ‘cept you.” She won’t do as she’s told. He hits her hard. “I won’t have nobody around here who don’t know their place”. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. “You big Fascist!” she cries. He, perplexed, tells Ed that she called him a fat shit. You’ll laugh. You’ll despair. You’ll admire. And you’ll be most interested to see how it all turns out.
Stuart Pearce is Harry in this role. He doesn’t bluster or falter in his interpretation of this horrible man. He is a man convinced of his power over everyone. It is a masterly performance. Madeleine Herd is giving a star performance. She wastes nothing of this character, her dumb blonde chrysalis Billie merging into an alert butterfly Billie and always utterly charming. She is stunning to look at and a consummate actress. It was a privilege and a joy to watch this performance. Jonathan Johnston is a good steady foil, the one who takes the character of Paul and provides a good balance to all the mayhem that goes on around him. David Roach is a crook lawyer but manages in his down-to-earth and quiet way to earn audience sympathy as a man who once had it all but whose demon, alcohol, has such a grip on him that he lost his way long ago. A lovely performance. Greg Janzow’s role could be nothing much but he makes Eddie Brock as the long suffering, laconic and obedient punching bag (literally) into a man we care about and watch with a smile and with sympathy. David Rapkin, gives Senator Norval Hedges a wrinkled brow and defeated look of a politician at the hurtful edge of his career, fearful of Harry and afraid of his uncertain future. Stanislavski said, “There are no small parts, only small actors”. In this play there are two small parts played, literally, by a small actor. However, Jenna Bezuidenhout, towers above her small stature, young age and small roles and gives a delightful performance in both. Lucky youngster to be working with such a good group as Independent Theatre.
Look, don’t dilly dally. If you live in Adelaide get along to the Goodwood Theatre before the show closes on May 5th and treat yourself to a very fine show.
Independent Theatre presents
by Garson Kanin
Director Rob Croser
Venue: Goodwood Theatre | Goodwood Road, Goodwood SA
Dates: 27 April – 05 May 2018
Tickets: $25 – $37.50