Tim Finn’s THE LADIES IN BLACK

Get some colour – and music – in your life

By Jessica Cornish

The other night I attended the opening night of Ladies in Black at the Regent Theatre. As I sweltered away under the hot Melbourne sun watching the celebs dash out of their cars on to the red carpet, I was unsure how the night would unfold. Directed by Simon Phillips, Ladies in Black isn’t your run-of-the-mill drama drenched production laced with consistent emotive blows to the heart. Instead it captures a point in time when shops were closed on a Sunday, girls didn’t attend university, and Australia was experiencing an influx of ‘crazy continentals’ who fled the Second World War.

We follow leading lady Lisa (Sarah Morrison) as she gains a summer job at a high end Sydney department store in the 1950’s. Here she connects with her female colleagues and we explore the every-day domesticity of their lives and their genuine love and passion for style and fashion.

Ladies in Black.jpg

Based on Madeleine St John’s novel, and composed by Aussie rock icon Tim Finn with book by Carolyn Burns, this charming new musical was certainly well received the night I attended, with cheeky songs like ‘He’s A Bastard’ and ‘I Just Kissed a Continental’ proving definite crowd-pleasers. Don’t worry – it’s not at all as bitter or racist as this sounds, and sassy protagonist Fay (Ellen Simpson) is quickly hooked on the lips and heart of her new Hungarian flame (Bobby Fox) lips and heart despite his unusual food and accent.

The cast gave strong vocal performances and executed proficiently the simple but effective choreography  of Andrew Hallsworth, appropriate for the diverse female cast of broad ages and body shapes. Plus it’s always refreshing to hear Aussie accents in song, and to have local references to towns such as good old Wagga Wagga. Sarah Morrison (Lisa) in particular was appealingly believable, and had impressive vocal skills that worked a treat for her character and the show’s style.

Set design by Gabriela Tylesova was simple but slightly underwhelming, incorporating an upstage scrim and series of perspex pillars throughout the production, which for me unfortunately seemed to lack the imagination and playfulness needed to compliment the story. Lighting design by David Walters was similarly simple but certainly got the job done. In constrast were Tylesova’s glorious costumes, capturing elaborate 1950’s cocktail gowns and society dresses that shone in glamorous contrast to the sombre blacks of the sales ladies’ attire.

Ladies in Black is  a theatrical snapshot of a group of wonderful women living in a time where Australia was (and surely still is) trying to define itself, and this musical uniquely ties up the lives of all its protagonists into a bundle of happiness. And you know what? – sometimes it’s nice to leave a show feeling content with the world and people in it.

Venue: The Regent Theatre

Season: 25 Feb- 18th of March

Tickets: $65-$111

Booking: Ticketmaster.com or call 1300 111 011

Image by Lisa Tomasetti

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