Sunday, 24 July 2016

'Through The Mill' Southwark Playhouse *****

We sometimes assume that all of us know about a superstar in their entirety, anyhow in all fairness we do not have a clue about what transpires behind closed doors and the legend that was Judy Garland is one such celebrity who faced a long list of trials and tribulations in her life. Southwark Playhouse’s production of Ray Rackham’s musical play, ‘Through The Mill’ allows us to observe factual events that did happen in Judy Garland’s life from her rise to fame through to her dwindling career, what is more, the representations were elegant throughout.

‘Through The Mill’ is set in a number of locations where we’re accustomed to the megastar that is Judy Garland who appears to be working on a TV for television network, CBS but the show is failing to obtain high ratings due to the fact that her approach isn’t impressing the channels bosses e.g. Hunt Stromberg Jr (Rob Carter). However, Judy has a new dresser by the name of Judith Kramer (Carmella Brown) to contend with, but it does appear that despite some divaish moments, she seems to approve of Judith and a pleasant relationship is formed. Throughout the performance, the Young Judy has to battle through the pressures of entering the entertainment industry and that it is her weight that is slammed by the film studio’s executive, Louie B. Mayer (Don Cotter), on the other hand, the Young Judy has the loyal support from her parents, Frank Gumm (Joe Shefer) and Ethel Gumm (Amanda Bailey), and also composer, Roger Edens (Tom Elliot Reade) but she does impress the bosses and obviously lands the role of Dorothy in, ‘The Wizard of Oz’. What is most interesting is that even though we see Judy’s career booming, she is possibly known for her long list of disastrous marriages and during the process of her CBS TV show, she is getting divorced from her third husband, Sid Luft (Harry Anton) so it is proving a little impossible for her to fully concentrate on the development of her TV show. Thankfully, she seems to have a fruitful working relationship with director, George Schlatter (Perry Meadowcroft), regrettably Hunt Stromberg Jr is not impressed with the ratings of the show and George is therefore sacked and replaced with Norman Jewison (Chris McGuigan). Over the course of the performance, the Palace Judy who has been enjoying her monumental success in an excessive amount of movie musicals and on stage starts to feel the strains of the industry and her finances are beginning to worry her, yet her professionalism means no one knows about it until we go to CBS Judy who now has a countless number of debts so this TV show is her last attempt to get her finances in order and the divorce to Sid is costly. CBS Judy’s show is about to be axed from the TV screens and because of this, she demands that George is re-instated and it is finally approved and at the finale all three Judy’s perform her hit song, ‘Over the Rainbow’ is what was a rather emotional moment as Judy Garland’s life was not exactly full of glitz and glamour and there’s so much more behind those lyrics than I originally thought. Rackham’s narrative is moving as he has given such a considerable insight into Judy Garland’s rather cataclysmic life especially her personal relationships and including songs life, “Get Happy”, “You Make Me Love You”, “The Man That Get Away” really worked well with staging a musical play about one of the entertainment icons in world movie history. 

One found the performances by the company of, ‘Through The Mill’ to be increasingly heartfelt as it all fell into place with such gusto and a few aspects nearly moved me to tears as someone who likes Judy Garland, it is painful to see how Judy has been treated by men over the years and no wonder she committed suicide in the end. Helen Sheals is tremendous as the CBS Judy; specifically how at her wits end she is due to the fact that both her professional and personal life is literally crumbling all around her and this is causing her to become slightly depressed, on the contrary, when she sings, “Life is Just A Bowl of Cherries” leads me to see that maybe child stardom is not all what it is cracked up to be like Hollie Steele’s breakdown on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. Belinda Wollaston is formidable as, Palace Judy; for example how we see that from her illustrious performance in, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ that she seems to have been lapping up all the fame, but is because of the fact that by this point she has been divorced already and her monetary issues are commencing on a long fall down to bankruptcy and as such; living a celebrity life is not all fun.  Lucy Penrose is delightful as the Young Judy; in specie how her parents did make it harder for her to live a normal life and that the both of them wanted her to be a star in the movie business, furthermore, with regards to the weight issues, this is still a problem in today’s entertainment industry such as theatre, film, television, fashion and music. 

Ray Rackham’s direction is extraordinary here as you can see that he has really worked with understanding how Judy Garland’s life made us realise that a celebrity can go through the same things as a civilian, moreover, with Chris Whittaker’s choreography you can see that the two of them have worked together to capture the essence of what actually goes on behind the scenes of the entertainment industry.  Justin Williams’ set design and Millie Hobday and Evie Holdcroft’s costume designs are phenomenal as I was stunned by how mesmerising it was to be transported to a period of history of a female that proved that beauty is actually inside and that it about the talent that is most important. Also Jack Weir’s lighting and Ed Shaw and James Neale’s sound were totally charming too. Overall, the experience of, ‘Through The Mill’ was a real whopper of a show that made you fully look into what celebrities have to face in their personal life and using Judy Garland as an example did the trick.

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