A Conversation With Edith Head

Susan Claassen & Paddy Calistro
Leicester Square Theatre
(2008)

Publicity photo

Edith Head was responsible for some of Hollywood's most infamous fashion, dressing virtually every Hollywood starlet from the late 1920s through to the early 1980s, winning eight Oscars for her work, more than any other woman has won.

Now she is in the West End for those wishing the pleasure of her company. Well, Susan Claassen is in the West End, playing Edith Head in A Conversation With Edith Head. However it is hard to tell where Susan starts and Edith ends in this utterly captivating performance.

Speaking at the time of the last film she worked on, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, this is a night of informal conversation with Ms Head as she takes you on an enchanting stroll down memory lane, bringing back to life the golden age of Hollywood.

The Leicester Square Theatre (formally The Venue) is the ideal space for this intimate occasion. Surrounded by framed photos of stars Head has worked with such as Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Bette Davis, alongside sketches of her designs and mannequins modelling her creations, Claassen glides around the set with ease, as if she were in her own living room.

Whilst refusing to indulge in salacious gossip, Ms Head openly shares precious moments from Hollywood history: stories from film sets, the nature of her relationships with certain stars and the inspiration behind her designs. All the while engaging in casual chit chat with the audience, who submit questions beforehand, as if she were talking with old friends.

As she comments on certain aspects of the audience who hang on her every word, the performance is fresh and spontaneous, all the while helped along by the charming Christopher (Christopher Arnold), the host of the evening and the well planted fanatical fan who seems to know more about Edith Head's life than Head herself.

A beautifully frank portrayal of Head - she is certainly not all sweetness and light. She is sentimental, arrogant, fun, indignant, friendly and above all a self-confessed "master of self promotion". Never wanting to go unnoticed, yet in the same breath never wanting to compete with the stars she styled. At only 5"1 (and a quarter) Head is a force to be reckoned with.

A Conversation With Edith Head is so much more than just a show for followers of fashion. It is about years gone by; a period in film history that set a trend for generations to come. Edith Head passed away in 1981 only two weeks after completing her last film, but as you leave the theatre with Glaassen still in character chatting to each and every person, one honestly does feel that they have met the truly inspirational woman that was Edith Head and what a privilege it is.

Until 31st August

Reviewer: Rachel Sheridan