BWW REVIEW: Heart, Hope And Hollywood Combine in TECHNICOLOR LIFE, A Moving Story Of Coping In The 21st Century
Friday 4th August 2017, 8pm, Depot Theatre
Jami Brandli's play TECHNICOLOR LIFE brings womens' stories to the forefront in an emotional rollercoaster of dramatic comedy. Under Julie Baz's direction, contemporary issues combine with eternal challenges in a television drama style work filled with music, melencholoy and meaning.
The premise of the work is that 14 year old Maxine ( Nyssa Hamilton) is a bookish junior high student struggling to be heard in a world where everyone around her is dealing with their own damage. Mother Susan (Cherrie Whalen-David) is a corporate lawyer dealing with her husband's infidelity and their divorce with work and alcohol. Sister Billie (Tasha O'Brien), who only ever dreamed of becoming a major in the Army has returned home on hand less after an incident with a suicide bomber and cannot come to terms with a future that doesn't have the army in it. Grandmother Franny (Cherilyn Price) has checked herself out of a cancer care facility in favour of visiting indefinitely to mend bridges with Susan and connect with her granddaughters before she has her final exit. Presented from Maxine's point of view, the audience is taken on the journey of trying to deal with a loved one with PTSD, with cancer and family breakdowns. Whilst Maxine initially uses her school reports as a means of 'therapy' to discover the issues that surround her, it's Franny's favourite movie musicals from the golden age of Hollywood that provide an escape, and dubious source of advice for the young adolescent.
David Jeffrey has utilised the broad space of Depot Theatre's corner stage to create distinct zones in the family home. The stage is dominated by a girly bed on a raised stage surrounded by romantic sheer curtains. A dressing table sits to the side whilst communal areas of a dining table and couch and coffee table are upstage. Amongst the domesticity, Jeffrey has also included nods to the crumbling family and the destructive war that has damaged Billie so much. The corner stage layout, and the stylings of the set design, lead Baz to employ the edict of "backs are beautiful" for a great deal of the work to keep the characters within the moment and infuse a degree of realism to the surreal story which is narrated with gusto by the hyperactive teen. With this staging and the nature of the text, Baz has delivered a tight work that moves between scenes smoothly.
The cast Baz has assembled is equally matched with a consistent high standard of understanding and expression. Giving enough of the emotion with a slight exaggeration as the work is presented more from Maxine's viewpoint so it would be natural that the dramatic daughter would see the drama in the people around her. Whilst she tries to appear happy and bubbly, Hamilton ensures that we see how pathetic Maxine's position is as the good girl that goes unrecognised with no one but her 'fairy godmothers' to turn to. O'Brien allows Billie to retreat within herself as she struggles with survivor's guilt but ensures that the acerbic bitterness makes way for some moments of joy when she does find a friend in Jake (James Martin). Whalen-David captures Susan's stress and inablitity to cope with her divorce, her distant daughter and her over dramatic mother, allowing the buttoned up corporate image to unravel with wine and cigarettes. Price as the larger than life grandmother presents the 'I don't give a damn what anyone else thinks' attitude with a flair whilst hinting that everything isn't as peachy as she'd like them to think.
As Maxine's guardian angels, Amy-Victoria Brooks and Emily Sulzberger are fabulous as Jane Russell's Dorothy Shaw and Marilyn Monroe's Lorelei Lee from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. First appearing during Franny's movie night, the duo deliver the song and dance that rolls in the background to the events unfolding in the living room. Whilst Brooks is the stronger vocally and is physically more playful, Sulzberger captures Monroe's coy breathiness wonderfully. As they impart outdated notions of what will make Billie happy (having a man), they are deliciously devious in encouraging Maxine to snoop on her sister.
Covering issues of PTSD, rape and assault, infidelity, cancer and simply trying to navigate adolescence, TECHNICOLOR LIFE draws on the humour that invariably surrounds tragedy to provide a balanced and entertaining work. Grounded in truths that would no doubt play out in similar forms across America and any country that sends its armies off to war, and the all too common issues of broken families and terminal illness, this work also shows that it is necessary to have an 'escape' from reality every now and then, provided that you realise what is real and what isn't.