Thoughts on Ladies in Black

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What: Ladies in Black
Where: Regent Theatre, Melbourne


Playing at the Regent Theatre until March 19th, 2017

Amongst the Goliath-sized offerings currently in Melbourne, comes the character-driven tale, Ladies in Black. Based on Madeleine St John’s 1993 novel, The Women in Black; it’s a story about growing up, fitting in and standing out in a repressed world.

Set in the 1950s, clever and courteous, Lisa takes a temporary job at F.G. Goodes over her school Christmas break, where she meets the colourful characters working on the department store sales floor. The show relies heavily on the charm of Sarah Morrison (whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and she’s just as lovely out of character, perhaps even more so, than her on stage persona), without Sarah’s natural likability and sweetness, which she brings to Lisa, the show wouldn’t work.

As an audience member, in some respects, we are all Lisa – we all have/had our hopes and dreams, and we’re all finding/found our place in the world. Watching Lisa grow into that butterfly (the visual representation of this is when Lisa puts on the dreamy gown, Lisette), I was inspired in my own life. It’s not often a show and character can inspire you to want to do so much – but that’s the strength in Sarah’s performance, backed by Tim Finn’s music and lyrics, and Simon Phillips’ strong direction. It’s a show for anyone who has had a dream, achieved a dream or is still chasing the dream. And although the show may seem to be geared more towards a female audience, men will enjoy its charms just the same.

The sets and costumes are minimal, but where you would think a show would be devoid of colour when all the characters wear black within a simple set, this is not true. Although they do all wear their own individual styles of black; the colour itself comes from its characters and its fashion – especially the lavish and intricate designs in Model Gowns. Never once did I find myself wanting more from the look of the show – it is perfect in its simplicity – and I think that’s the first time I’ve ever said that and meant it.

The cast itself is also small but the characters are so well-defined in the way they speak and dress, that never did I think this was a problem. The show also boasts strong performances by Natalie Gamsu, as Lisa’s wise mentor Magda; Madeleine Jones as Patty who longs for to have a child with her estranged husband Frank (Tamlyn Henderson); and Ellen Simpson, as Fay, who is looking for Mr Right in the seemingly hopeless dating pool. Ellen’s I Just Kissed a Continental was fun, comedic, joyous and all kinds of perfection – it was a show favourite of mine and many in the audience.

The biggest mystery lies in the lack of cast recording. Where is it? How can we get one? Is there a petition we can sign? The strength of the show lies in its lyrical catchiness. With and music lyrics written by Split Enz, Tim Finn, if you don’t leave the theatre singing along to I Got It At Goodes, Ladies in Black or the ever-popular, Bastard, you’re a liar.

After its sold out run with the Melbourne Theatre Company in 2016, Ladies in Black returns to Melbourne at the prestigious Regent Theatre until March 18th. The feedback and love of this show has been phenomenal, but it relies heavily on word-of-mouth because of its ‘small fish in a big musical pond’ stature. I cannot fault it, nor have I heard one bad thing.

Ladies in Black is a different kind of musical. It doesn’t rely on flashy costumes and overly choreographed dance numbers; it’s a very character driven story. It’s a small musical with a lot to offer, but you won’t know until you see it. You won’t be a disappointed.

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