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Review: THROUGH THE MILL, Southwark Playhouse, 8 July 2016

Set primarily in Los Angeles, where Judy Garland is filming a new CBS television series, The Judy Garland Show - one of many comebacks the ill-fated star made in her later life - Ray Rackham's play THROUGH THE MILL reveals a snapshot of Garland's tumultuous story, honing in on three key periods in her life.

The musical-play, which premiered at London Theatre Workshop last year and now runs at Southwark Playhouse, tells Judy Garland's story through fresh eyes, introducing us to three incarnations of Judy from different eras, each played by a different actress. We meet CBS Judy (Helen Sheals) first, as she stumbles into her dressing room ready to start filming a new Sunday night small-screen show; Palace Judy (Belinda Wollaston), whose heartbreaking vulnerability and addiction to sedatives dogs a triumphant performance at New York's Palace Theatre; and finally Young Judy (Lucy Penrose), who at the tender age of 13 catches the eye of film producer and co-founder of MGM Studios, Louis B Mayer.

Following the highs and lows on stage and off, Garland's charisma and undisputed talent is celebrated by three brilliant Judys, each actress capable of emulating Garland's mannerisms and deep, soulful voice that touched so many, in the surrounds of a chaotic, dimly lit set designed by Johnson Williams.

Jumping through time we see pivotal moments captured as a young Judy is pushed into the limelight by her cruel, over-ambitious mother, surrendering her childhood in doing so as she is forced to take weight loss pills and work long, exhausting days, while a 29-year-old Judy in her vocal prime struggles with her faltering career and anxiety backstage, compellingly played by Wollaston. Sheals's CBS Judy is a little feistier and doesn't disappoint as the 'tornado' she was reputed to be, clashing with producer Hunt Stromberg (Rob Carter) as they struggle to refine the concept for her television show.

At points deeply harrowing, as Judy Garland's long, sad decline and her eventual tragic death plays in the mind of the audience, Rackham's production is also filled with the wit and irrepressible charm Judy was well known for, including a good measure of classic numbers to keep viewers happy, from "The Trolley Song" and "The Man That Got Away" to the classic "Over the Rainbow".

The performance of the night comes from Lucy Penrose as Young Judy, who sings and moves as Garland with an eerie accuracy. Perhaps the only problem with the show is her smaller part, as we are given only brief glimpses of Garland's tough childhood and Penrose's beautiful voice.

With tickets costing £20, just one Judy would justify the price, let alone the three we are presented with who, between them, capture the fragility and passion that will never allow us to forget the great Judy Garland.

Through the Mill runs July 6-30 at Southwark Playhouse. For more information and to book tickets visit

Photo credit: Darren Bell

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