Any Drama teacher across the State knows what I’m talking about when I say ‘Bombshells’. I’m not talking about my brief dabble with peroxide as a blonde back when I was 18 (better called a platinum disaster. What was I thinking??). Nor am I talking about the tv-musical drama series ‘Smash’. I am, of course, talking about the Joanna Murray-Smith play featuring six female character monologues, all women in the throes of crisis or discovery and Murray-Smith’s play has become a staple for teenage girls to perform for their final performance exams with mixed success.
So it was with curiosity I headed along to the Ensemble Theatre to see ‘Bombshells’ as I’ve never seen it performed by anyone apart from 17 or 18 year olds. Directed by Sandra Bates and starring Sharon Millerchip, this is a smart choice for Ensemble to include in their season. Each character represents different ages and personalities and there is something for everyone in this play.
Millerchip carries this show and I will say this, she is an exceptionally skilled performer. I could not even touch the sides of the talent she has. Her range is phenomenal. You couldn’t ask for more accents and we got plenty…plenty… I wish she gave us less. I wish that instead of showing us everything she could do, she gave us what was most appropriate for the characters.
The issue that comes from showing me your showbag of credentials is that it feels contrived on stage. I felt at times that instead of concentrating on the journey of the character and their response to the events unfolding in front of them, I was watching a very accomplished performer giving me her show reel.
It comes down to Bates. Sandra Bates would have directed those choices, perhaps to make as clear as possible the differentiation between characters and to maximise her casting choice and because Millerchip can do them (I suspect she could do anything), then there’s nothing stopping that directorial choice.
It’s not as if the play doesn’t work. There were genuine moments of laugh-out-loud audience responses in each monologue and Millerchip is utterly transformative. But the first half especially felt out of sync, hit and miss, forced. And even the vocal clarity suffered in some accents, like with Mary O’Donnell. I like to do a little interval eavesdrop and a number of patrons seemed to remark that they struggled to understand what she was saying. Sure, maybe they left their hearing aids at home but I think the point is valid. Tiggy Entwhistle was another character where the pace of the piece seemed to drag in long thoughtful pauses that seemed overplayed.
But come the second half of the show, we got all the things missing in the first half and I especially loved the vocal response of the crowd to characters such as Winsome Webster, widow, and I have never heard the sounds of complete empathy coming from a crowd like I heard in the Ensemble that night. It was an oldie’s catharsis. And then with a strong finish, Zoe Struthers entered the space and Millerchip’s ability to play off the crowd and improvise around and with them made it a very memorable monologue indeed. I thought one woman and her husband in the front row might have needed emergency services and an oxygen tank they were laughing so hard. Millerchip’s call out to two young women in the crowd of ‘Are you lost?’ practically brought the house down.
The design was wonderfully versatile and I loved that it touched on the domesticity of many of our characters but as a background and not as a defining feature. In fact I might get the designer, Marissa Dale-Johnson to come and renovate my kitchen. Kudos to wardrobe co-ordinator Lissette Endacott for any assistance she may have given Millerchip out there to change so thoroughly for each character. Tony Youlden’s lighting also helped to set the mood, although with Tiggy Entwhistle’s piece, I felt perhaps even the lighting was contrived- lights up bright when Tiggy talks about her marriage and back to normal for the speech to the ‘Succulent Society’. I don’t need it ‘highlighted’- I get the metaphor loud and clear.
‘Bombshells’ is absolute value for money and if only the first half could have matched the energy and rhythm of the second half without feeling the choices were contrived, then the show would have been explosive.
Instead ‘Bombshells’ is like a sparkler: pretty and sustained but nothing to get too excited over.