Reviewed by Lucy Eyre
The new Australian musical “Ladies in Black” by Carolyn Burns and Tim Finn is presented by Playlovers at Stirling Theatre in Innaloo, and directed by one of WA community theatre’s most experienced and respected theatre directors, Kimberley Shaw, who also coordinated the stunning array of 1950s costumes for the production.
With thirty-four musical numbers in as many scenes (perhaps more) the task of staging this production is not for the faint hearted. Shaw’s respect in the theatre community is apparent considering the massive production team she has gathered to assist her to bring “Ladies in Black” to Perth audiences. Likewise, Shaw has attracted some of Perth’s finest musical theatre performers.
Shaw’s strong direction is apparent as she has created a slick, dynamic and beautifully measured production that lifts the material beyond the page. Based on the novel by Madeleine St John, “The Women in Black”, this musical has been written by Carolyn Burns, with music and lyrics by Australian music legend, Tim Finn (Crowded House member with brother Neil Finn). Burns has created a series of mainly small scenes, with multiple characters and a few narratives that feel thin on the ground.
The story follows teenager Lisa (Stephanie Shaw) who takes a job at Goodes department store where she meets the ladies in black who work there. The story gives glimpses of the personal lives of workers Fay (Erin Craddock), Patty (Helen Kerr), and Magda (Claudia Van Zeller) which touch on serious issues of migration, husband/wife relations of the 1950s, and the fear of being left on the shelf, felt by many women of this era.
Shaw, Craddock, Kerr and Van Zeller each give strong performances that show their acting and singing talents. Other notable performances are from Rachael Monamy as Miss Cartwright, Christian Gerrish as Dad/Stefan, Liam Gobbert as Rudi, Alan Gill as Frank and Genevieve Newman as Lisa’s (Lesley’s mother). The smaller roles and ensemble are also very strong and manage to show personality and plausible relationships in the short time they’re on stage. In particular, the scene with Mrs Crown (Fran Gordon ), Dawn (Donna-Maree Gavin) and Joy (Samantha Ferguson) sum up women’s plight of the 1950s with The Bastard Song, wonderfully reprised and enjoyed by the audience.
Tyler Eldridge’s musical direction is solid throughout, though some of the obscure, discordant transition parts of the score could do with being reworked by Finn. The four-piece band did a great job with a challenging score.
The many scene changes are ably assisted by the clever projection design by Blake Jenkins which captures the era and settings, creating a lovely nostalgic feeling.
Madeleine Shaw’s debut as a choreographer shows a natural talent for playing to the strengths of the cast. The choreography is understated yet extremely effective throughout.
“Ladies is Black” is a pleasant coming of age story that touches on some meaty issues that could have been explored further by writers Burns and Finn, however, the Playlovers’ production has made the most of the material.