Moonlight and Magnolias

Ron Hutchinson

Watermill Theatre, Newbury

(2011)

Review by Robin Strapp

Ron Hutchinson's hilarious comedy Moonlight and Magnolias is a sheer joy. It's years since I've laughed out loud so much at a play in what was a wonderful evening's entertainment that the audience absolutely loved.

The plot is outlandish. Movie producer David O Selznick, a stellar performance from Kim Wall, has stopped filming Gone with the Wind much to the angst of his father-in-law, Lois B Mayer.

Selznick is in melt-down; he needs a new script and the delay is costing him money. In desperation he calls his Jewish friend and scriptwriter Ben Hecht, splendidly captured by Richard Attlee, who is renowned for rescuing failing texts. The only problem is he has not read Margaret Mitchell's book and Selznick needs the script within five days.

He pulls director Victor Fleming, the wonderful Brian Protheroe, from the final days of filming The Wizard of Oz to work on the new movie and incarcerates them all in his office where Fleming and Selznick act out the scenes from the story with hilarious vignettes from the book.

Karin Mann is delightful as the long suffering secretary, Miss Poppenghul, who fronts the growing number of calls to discover what is happening with the production and supplies copious amounts of peanuts and bananas to feed their creative minds.

The pressure mounts as the deadline grows nearer and the desperation and panic is palpable as the characters disintegrate into total despair fuelled by their individual concerns about whether this film will be a turkey or a success.

They end up in a riotous, boisterous fight scene that fizzed with comic invention and had the audience rolling in the aisles with laughter.

The play is littered with wonderful one-liners as they continue to act out the book. Fleming's portrayal of giving birth and being urged to "push" by Selznick is side-splittingly funny.

There is an under current theme of racism that Hecht is utterly opposed to when he learns that Scarlett O'Hara slaps the black maid, a parallel to his Zionist fanaticism and the whole Jewish prejudice from the Hollywood fraternity.

The quest to finish the screenplay from an exhausted team as they decline into total fatigue just increases the humour as Hecht is provided with an ice bucket to cool his fingers from frenetic typing.

Ben Stones' art décor set of Selznick's oak panelled office with views over the Hollywood studio was impressive and beautifully lit by David Holmes.

Director Mark Rosenblatt had the dream team as his actors. They sparked and fed off each other in a fast paced, high-energy electrical performance that was true magic. A master class in acting, London producers take note: Moonlight and Magnolias deserves a transfer. Bravo!