In 1942 Veronica Lake had it all – fame, fortune, beauty and world adulation. Fame, as they say, is fleeting as we fast forward to 40 years after her death to witness the spectacular self destructive personality of this once great movie star.
Theatre makers, Alex Ellis and Phil Ormsby, as Flaxworks, bring the show, Drowning In Veronica Lake, to Melbourne after successfully touring in NZ followed by more success at the Adelaide Fringe. "We are in Melbourne because we took the show to the Adelaide Fringe last year where Tony Smith from Gasworks saw the show and loved it and now here we are in Melbourne – I love my life!" says Ellis.
Touring is how Ellis and Ormsby started Flaxworks and it's what they love to do. But, Ellis tells me, touring is not always a glamorous proposition" We have been very lucky that Arts Festivals and venues around New Zealand have bought the show which has made touring Drowning in Veronica Lake very easy and quite luxurious compared to our previous touring, which usually involved backpackers and baked beans for dinner."
Ellis recalls the genesis of Flaxworks and her initial meeting with Ormsby: "I had returned to NZ after living in Melbourne for a few years. My friend and I had just put on a show at Melbourne Fringe so I was inspired and ready to make more theatre and Phil had just written his first show so was raring to go on his second one. We hit it off pretty much straight away and went for a coffee one day. We started discussing theatre and how we both just wanted to get out there and do it and by the time we hit our third long black and finally left the cafe we had the idea for our new show and a national tour planned out! So, six months later we bought a $400 van off the side of the road and took off on our very first National Tour of NZ. We came back with a profit of $10 each in our pocket – yay for theatre!"
Veronica lake was a 1940's icon and sex symbol with her blonde hair and famous 'peekaboo' hairstyle she was considered, for a time, one of the most reliable Hollywood box office draw cards. Even though Lake continued to make movies throughout most of the 40's her career as a box office guarantee was generally over by around 1945. She drank more, ostracized herself more and generally paved the way to her untimely death of acute renal failure at the age of 50. So what is the appeal for Ellis as a performer? "There's something about Veronica Lake that's fascinating," she says. "I had never heard of her before Phil suggested the idea of the play but so many things have been based on or exist because of her – the hairstyle, Film Noir, Jessica Rabbit. Her fame burned bright and burned fast and it was over in less than a decade. I think if people remember her at all it's as just a pretty face but she was so much more than that. Also her story seemed like a very contemporary one to us, the experiences she had continue to be played out by stars in the tabloids today, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan…."
"There was a lot of reading material, most found online in old magazine and newspaper clippings but also in a couple of biographies. Veronica Lake was an early and enthusiastic self publicist, quite happy to make up stories for the press, much to the frustration of the film studios, so I think Phil also found the research frustrating but fantastic. The more he researched the more he realised that very few ‘facts’ about her are not contradicted by other ‘facts’ including basic details as her height and date of birth. The show makes the most of these contradictions and uses them to build an image of a star whose sudden fame so overwhelmed her that she lost sight of herself and often the truth."
Ellis' one woman show has been critically acclaimed and Flaxworks brings it to Gasworks for its only Melbourne performance. Ellis owns the stage as Lake and tackles the role with what has been described as 'onstage honesty.' For Ellis it is a complex, stirring, exciting and highly rewarding work to be involved with as an actor. "I love it! It's not often we get the chance to dress up like they did back then. And to wear the dress I get to where during the show must be a one in a million opportunity. But I guess the underlying theme is that all that glitters isn't gold. The play is based on her life so I go through the wringer during the performance, from the highest to the lowest points and everything in between. It is fun but it's also an emotional roller coaster."
Lake's life seems almost as intriguing as Flaxworks next project – A play about a man who decides to become a woman with the help of his loving wife.
Drowning in Veronica Lake at Gasworks Arts Park:
28 to 29 June 2013 Time: 8.00pm