His Girl Friday is classic screwball comedy at its finest and funniest. Playwright John Guare’s script is an adaptation of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s original play The Front Page and Columbia Pictures film version of His Girl Friday, a cynical satire on tabloid journalism.
Briefly, the story centres around ace reporter Hildy Johnson who is lured back into the Chicago newsroom on the eve of her impending nuptials and finds herself caught up in the biggest story of the year. Tired of the hustle and sleaze of the Chicago newspaper game, she’s ready to throw it all away to catch the midnight train east to marry her handsome, cashed-up fiancé Bruce Baldwin. She wants to discover what it truly means to be a lady of leisure … but that was before the fattest, juiciest scoop of all time, landed splat in her lap!
The 1940 film starred the sophisticated Cary Grant and seductive Rosalind Russell as Hildy (sex change from the original script) and is particularly noted for its rapid fire and overlapping dialogue. It is reminiscent of vintage American cinema but is that cut above.
This version is directed by the very versatile Aidan Fennessy who is a writer, director dramaturg, 2008 MTC's Associate director as well being a member of MTC’s Season 2012 Programming Team. Fennessy has worked in all medium as an actor and director and was co-founder of Chameleon Theatre, His love of theatre is clear as is his love of this play and this genre." It’s one of the original genre mashes," explains Fennessy. "The brilliance that Howard Hawkes brought to it was that he changed it from a buddy narrative into a romcom/political/satirical work and Guare has capitalized on this with his adaptation."
The style of the play is very much of Hollywood and this is significant enough to get Fennessy'a artistic juices flowing. Fennessy grew up watching, and loving, old American films and this piece is driven by that same style and comedic flourish. "Even though the original play was written in the late 1920’s and the film made in 1940 the comedy is so fresh (in a classic kind of way) that it’s hopefully going to be a great night in the theatre," he says.
Comedy is serious business and technical, acknowledges Fennessy, and says everyone is working like mad to realise this precision. It’s actually a very serious rehearsal room at the moment. The audience will get to see the skills and energy from a cast of 16 of which this play demands a lot.
Actor Pamela Rabe is also a great admirer of this period’s genre of big, classic screwball comedy. "For me there’s something intoxicating about fast, wise-cracking satire. I love its high style. It’s just about my favourite period of American comedy writing," she says." Its hilarious satire absolutely pins the crazy culture of the tabloid press where journos will do anything to get The Story."
Fennessy cast a lot from people who he has worked with over the years and who have a great ear and talent for comedy. Accent was also an essential ingredient he says: "You of course need to be able to carry an accent in a work like this but the trick with this kind of work I think is diversity of feel. You don’t want to double ups so the casting was about trying to get different ‘types’ on stage and then let them sing. Kind of like jazz. "
Fennessy promises a rollicking good time with this sparkling new production which delivers the best of both wise-cracking worlds. Everything old is new again!
His Girl Friday
Venue Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse
Season Dates 11 August to 15 September 2012
Booking Details MTC Theatre Box Office 03 8688 0800 or mtc.com.au; Arts Centre Melbourne 1300 182 183 or artscentremelbourne.com.au