Watermill - Moonlight and Magnolias
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Watermill - Moonlight and Magnolias

5th May to 11th June 2011.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Frankly amusing my dear

Five days that produced the American epic Gone with the Wind

Moonlight and Magnolias at The Watermill, Bagnor, until June 11

The swelling strains of Tara's Theme, which accompanied the blockbuster film Gone With the Wind, set the scene for this hectic, madcap comedy by Ron Hutchinson and directed by Mark Rosenblatt, which takes place in producer David O Selznick's office at Culver Studios.

"Before they turn the lights out I wanna make one good film," says Selznick, but he's hit a snag.

At great cost, work has been suspended on the Margaret Mitchell romantic classic, Vivien Leigh wants to go back home, Hecht, the guy he wants to write the new script, hasn't read the book and Victor Fleming, the director he needs, is coping with a production of Oz and 116 Munchkins who insist on singing "ding dong, the bitch is dead."

Selznick (Kim Wall) finally bribes busy screenwriter Ben Hecht (Richard Attlee) with cash, bananas and peanuts to give him five days during which he, Fleming (Brian Protheroe) - who not unwillingly abandons those Munchkins – and Hecht will be locked into the office. Fresh supplies of bananas and peanuts are brought in by Selznick's harassed secretary, Miss Poppenghul (Karen Mann).

Selznick and Fleming riotously act out the story for the reluctant Hecht tapping away at a small typewriter. Remembering Selznick mincing about the stage as Melanie, posing as sexy Scarlett and urging Fleming, playing Melanie having the baby, to "PUSH" still makes me smile.

Hilariously, the work progresses, but Hecht has a social conscience and occasionally fights for a change to be made to the original story. At one stage a full-scale fight between all three results in complete chaos - cleverly achieved with papers flying everywhere, boxes tipping off shelves and probably the peanuts went for a burton too.

As the end nears, the three become totally exhausted, but still Hecht argues on. Finally, they drag themselves to the end. The efficient Miss Poppenghul clears up and Fleming decides to take cash rather than a percentage (we all nod wisely knowing he was a fool) and Hecht leaves convinced the whole thing will be a turkey.

You'll come out of the theatre smiling and absolutely shattered by the wisecracking energy crackling about the stage from the four superb actors. Margaret Mitchell must be giggling in her grave.

CAROLINE FRANKLIN

Review from Newbury Theatre.

David O Selznick had made his reputation as a Hollywood producer in the 1930s with films like Anna Karenina and A Tale of Two Cities, but when he read Gone With the Wind he knew that this would be the big one that would make or break him.

Ron Hutchinson’s Moonlight and Magnolias looks at a single week in 1939 when the production had got off to a false start and Selznick brought in a new writer and a new director and locked them in his office until the rewrite was complete. Selznick (Kim Wall) and director Victor Fleming (Brian Protheroe) act out the whole of Gone With the Wind while Ben Hecht (Richard Attlee) writes the screenplay. Karen Mann, as Selznick’s long suffering secretary Miss Poppenghul, keeps them stocked up with food (largely peanuts and bananas) and drink, and attempts to tidy up after them.

This may not sound like a very promising proposition for a full length play, and indeed it did seem rather too long (though fortunately not as long as the film), but there are a lot of laughs at the farcical goings-on as the set deteriorates from a tidy office to a paper-strewn mess. If you’re familiar with the book or the film (I’m not), you’ll get much more out of the play; some of the scenes acted out between Selznick and Fleming are a delight.

Among the humour there is a serious consideration of the paradoxical situation of Jews in Hollywood at that time: the main studio producers – the most powerful men – were Jews, but Jews were regularly discriminated against and prevented from joining the best clubs or living in the swankiest locations, and were not thought of as proper Americans.

Director Mark Rosenblatt takes advantage of The Watermill’s small stage – ideal for the claustrophobic office – and Ben Stones’ set has an impressive backdrop of the Hollywood hills.

PAUL SHAVE

There is a review from The Public Reviews ("great fun, very well written and gives our leading trio the perfect chance to prove just what talented and funny actors each and every one of them are... farcical fun, a must see show" 4 1/2 stars).