Secret life of a silver screen star

By Myron My

On the 40th anniversary of her death, Drowning in Veronica Lake is a moving look into the life of 1940s Hollywood film star Veronica Lake.

We enter the theatre and see a buxom blonde with red lipstick, dressed in a white gown that literally covers the whole stage. She is frozen in place, and perhaps in time too.  With the trademark peek-a-boo golden locks covering one eye, Alex Ellis is the mirror-image of the dazzling and tragic celebrity that was Veronica Lake.

Drowning in Veronica Lake

It’s a flawless performance by Ellis as she encapsulates all the dreams and insecurities of Lake, from the beginning of her story of fame with her bright eyes and aspirations of being a big Hollywood starlet to her first loves. Slowly though, the anxieties slip in as Lake’s glamorous life descends into a series of box-office flops, failed marriages, tax fraud, alcoholism and her ultimate death at 50 from renal failure.

Throughout the play, Ellis also impersonates a few of the people who had an influence in Lake’s life, including her mother and a myriad of ex-lovers but the mobility issue of the dress she is wearing hinders these people from being truly individual. However, this limitation does then suggest that these people have “helped” make Lake what she is now so they are in fact a part of her.

From a technical point of view, Drowning in Veronica Lake is also impressive. With its unwavering spotlight on Ellis, the lighting design is very effective in conveying the idea that this was Lake’s life: constantly in media focus and without a moment of privacy. The music is quite poignant and provides a strong nostalgic backdrop in recreating the era.

Phil Ormsby’s confronting script doesn’t simply paint Lake as a victim of society or ‘the system’ nor yet as a mere perpetrator of her own destructive choices but allows the audience to question this conflict long after they’ve left the theatre. Drowning in Veronica Lake is a powerful one-woman show that needs to be seen – let us hope for a return season soon.

This production was performed at GasWorks Arts Park on June 28 and 29th 2013.