‘Sex, Lies and Betrayal – Memoirs of a Hollywood Star’ was captivating.
The glossy world of Hollywood and the scandals behind the scenes is told in riveting detail in ‘Sex, Lies & Betrayal – Memoirs of a Hollywood Star’, a new touring cabaret by JTM Productions. Presented with Anywhere Festival, audiences were treated to a night of gossip, stunning vocals and heartfelt storytelling at the historic Old Museum in Bowen Hills.
The one-woman cabaret is told by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM) film star Miss Nightingale, who divulges secrets and memories from her diaries and notes to a friend on the phone. Written by Margaret Fisk, the femme fatale reflects on her past lovers, her family and the culture of the Hollywood film industry, where she admits her talent wasn’t the only thing that made her successful. The cabaret is based on the 1940s golden era in Hollywood; Rolls Royces and flashy opening nights of classic films. It unravels true stories of actresses and their experiences, from affairs and “special favours”, to heartbreak and unwanted pregnancies. Throughout the 60 minutes, we learn of Nightingale’s nostalgia and regrets, her longing for love and the pain of past loves. It’s saucy and sexy, with some of her diary entries straight from ‘50 Shades of Grey’, but it also triggers that part of ourselves that wonders what life would be like if we chose a different path, as Miss Nightingale ponders towards the end. “I’d do it all again!” she exclaimed, but soon after turned her wistful eyes back to her notes and went quiet. This production asks audiences about their own lives and whether it is too late to start fresh, however, the call of the MGM studios is too strong for Miss Nightingale.
Technically, the cabaret was smooth sailing. The use of the crackling, old fashioned radio as the sound source was a charming detail, while the music wonderfully matched the time period and the high and lows within the narrative. The lighting by Moving Light Productions and Jason Bovaird really brought the performance together, with the set only in half light and casting provocative shadows on the furniture. Audiences were truly in the home of a seductive star. However, the show seemed to lack atmosphere when audiences entered and were seated, due to awkward silences and the obvious presence of the performer hiding behind a nearby curtain.
Designed by Christina Logan-Bell, Miss Nightingale’s home was elegant and quaint; a gleaming silver table for the phone to sit on, an intricate wooden table where her liquor and photo frames rested, and a tall lamp with a frilled lampshade in the corner. Her notes strewn on the patterned carpet also added a layer of anticipation, with audiences wondering what secrets could be written there. Her costume was also glamorous, a long black nightgown with hints of red lingerie underneath.
Directed by Margaret Fisk, the cabaret captures audiences in its sensual, intimate storytelling, waiting for Miss Nightingale’s next twist in the story. Blocking was simple and cleverly placed, but the focus was certainly on the words, which suited the “tell all” narrative style. Careful attention, however, to the shadow across Miss Nightingale’s face when she reads from the diary would be beneficial for the audience’s view. There was also a moment towards the end where Miss Nightingale recollects the one man she did “truly, deeply love”, which perhaps needed greater differentiation for audiences to be invested in this passion, since the piece is littered with stories about the other men she also loved. Additionally, musical direction and arrangements by Ned Wright-Smith gave the songs a unique sound and let the performer lean into a crooning Jazz sound, which was thoroughly enjoyable.
And now for Miss Nightingale herself, played by Karla Hillam, who was perfectly cast, not just for her performance but for her presence and persona. Hillam could definitely have travelled back in time to the 50s and blended in. Her slight accent and casual, flirty tone was engaging and her vocals were soaring and effortless.
‘Sex, Lies & Betrayal – Memoirs of a Hollywood Star” needs to be seen for its captivating storytelling and standout performance. JTM Productions have premiered a highly entertaining and touching cabaret that will no doubt be a popular attraction at Anywhere Festival.
‘Sex, Lies & Betrayal – Memoirs of a Hollywood Star’ performs until Sunday, 9 May 2021 at various locations. For more information visit the Anywhere Festival website.
Photos by JTM Productions