Gone With The Wind, the epic love story set in America’s Civil War and written by by Margaret Mitchell was first published in 1936. Mitchell received the Pulitzer Prize For Fiction in 1937 and it was inevitable someone would turn this best selling novel into a movie. The movie was released in 1939 and also regarded as one of the classic greats. Creating a successful movie from a best selling epic novel surely has its challenges and this is the basis for the comedy play Moonlight and Magnolias.

Moonlight and Magnolias is loosely based around reportedly true events surrounding movie producer David O Selznick, director Victor Fleming and script writer Ben Hecht who were supposedly locked away to create a suitable screenplay adaptation of the novel in just five days, surviving on a diet of only bananas and peanuts in the hope these foods would stimulate creative thinking. The director has been pulled off the film set of The Wizard of Oz for questionable behaviour and the script writer has never actually read the book. It is up to Selnick and Fleming to act out the basics of the storyline to assist Hecht to write a suitable screenplay. Meanwhile, Selzick’s phone is buzzing, despite informing his poor assistant, Miss Poppehnghul that he won’t be taking any calls. It has all the ingredients for a hilarious comedy.

The first scene spends some time establishing the characters and the basis of the story line. While there are some early laughs, it’s really from the second scene that the tone of the play takes a sudden change in mood. Time has passed and our collaborators are feeling the strain of this mammoth task.

Left to right: Brett Hyland. Wendy McRae. Kirby Chenhall. Tim Byron. Photographer: Ash Walker

Left to right: Brett Hyland. Wendy McRae. Kirby Chenhall. Tim Byron.
Photographer: Ash Walker

Loretta Bishop has delivered a hilarious comedy to close off the 1812 year that will certainly entertain audiences, regardless of whether or not they’ve ever seen the movie or read the book of Gone With The Wind. In the theatre foyer audiences can find further information about references made during the play, which will be particularly helpful for anyone not familiar with that era of Hollywood.

There are some deeper tones to the story line with references to racial challenges faced by the Jewish community in Hollywood and America. These moments in the script bring a sense of realism back to the story, but without creating a heavy tone.

In his debut at the 1812 Theatre, experienced actor, Tim Byron gives a strong performance as the maniacal film producer. Brett Hyland is delightful as the script writer who hasn’t even read the novel. Wendy McRae is endearing as Selnick’s hard working but somewhat quirky assistant. A few lines were difficult to understand in her shrill “Yes, Mr Zelnick!” voice and care needs to be taken to ensure the diction remains clear.

Rounding out the cast, is Kirby Chenhall. It is encouraging to see Chenhall in his debut role on the Lowe Auditorium stage after years of establishing himself as an actor to take notice of during his previous productions with Centrestage, the 1812 Youth Theatre. Chenhall is convincing as the somewhat arrogant and rather confident film director. If this is the calibre of actors coming out of Centrestage, then the future looks bright for not only the 1812 Theatre but for community theatre in the local region and beyond.

The quality set, designed by Robin Miller, is detailed and of the high standard now expected by regular patrons of the 1812 Theatre. Lighting design by Robin Le Blond was excellent. The sound coming from the office intercom system, although loud enough, was at times muffled and difficult to understand, although this didn’t impact on the overall storyline.

Moonlight and Magnolias is a hilarious play and a delightful evening of entertainment, although it’s quite likely you’ll return home feeling compelled to google and uncover what is thought to have really happened.

Moonlight and Magnolias is now playing at the 1812 Theatre until December 12th. Worth a look.