Theda Bara was Hollywood’s first ‘vamp’ and was known for not smiling. She has also been posited as the first cultivated persona by a Hollywood PR machine. Gemma Elsom, playing shy but opinionated ‘Benny’ definitely smiles. We are introduced to Benny in the most glorious way possible, with a Spice Girls sing along. It’s fun, it’s energizing, and we immediately get to know that Benny wants to be a star, if only in her own bedroom.
Nine prepared monologues, performed in order of the audience’s choosing, are delivered revealing the awkwardness of Benny. This show is the opening of a diary and the inner most thoughts expressed, but just like the persona of Theda Barra, so too is the character of Benny carefully cultivated. The monologues are comical and revealing, from job frustrations, to BFF convos. The ‘Simplicity of Womanhood’ was a highlight, despite its relaxed approach; the music spoke for itself.
The location was the very cool Bison Bar, a Nambour institution oozing with retro and charm. Much of the seating was the kind that you wanted to snuggle into on a wintry Saturday afternoon and just enjoy the show being presented, which is exactly what the sold-out crowd appeared to do. It was fun watching the vignettes of life being presented by the engaging Elsom. She guided us through moments of mirth and quiet, awkwardness and authority. It’s an upbeat show, but the reality is that we can’t always be ‘on’, so there were scenes of quiet and melancholy too. Elsom is a strong performer, and can engage with a look and a smile, but too many “um” moments lessened the impact. A fun and, at times, lively performance that can be talked and thought about later.
Theda Bara Smiles will be performed at Bib n Brace Collective in Tenerife on 17 and 18 May. Tickets can booked through https://anywhere.is/listings/smiles/.