Sex, Lies & Betrayal | Memoirs of a Hollywood Star

Review of May 9 performance by Elise Lawrence.

Written and directed by Margaret Fisk, Sex, Lies & Betrayal: Memoirs of a Hollywood Star was a glamourous and salacious one-woman cabaret based on the true stories of a 1940’s Hollywood legend (although, the jury is still out on exactly who that is).

Beautifully coiffed and with a drink in hand, the glamourous Miss Nightingale turned on the radio and picked up the phone. The audience listened to Miss Nightingale’s side of the conversation as she recounted episodes from her life, including a laundry list of celebrity lovers.

Miss Nightingale read excerpts from her memoir in progress, musing on what she should reveal and what should be kept secret, and sharing details of many erotic encounters and scandalous affairs as she did. But Miss Nightingale was not only interested in idle gossip. She spoke about the power and the pressures of being an actress, the demands made of leading ladies and their bodies, and the violence and control she experienced from men in her life. Miss Nightingale mentioned a dozen or more celebrities of the time – Lana Turner, Joan Crawford, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Bette Davis, Frank Sinatra, among others – and this also created a process of elimination for those who were trying to guess the identity of Miss Nightingale.

Despite the large performance space of The Old Museum in Bowen Hills, the stage was arranged and lit in a way that felt very intimate. The lights of Brisbane city twinkled through the windows behind Miss Nightingale as she paced the room, poured another drink, or lounged in her chair and dreamily recalled tales of marriage and divorce, lovers and losses, heartbreak and headlines. Set and costume design by Christina Logan-Bell were both lush and cozy, adding to the intimate feel of the performance space.

Karla Hillam was chic and charming in the starring role, with a strong stage presence and an American accent that remained consistent throughout the performance. Her exclamations of “Jesus Christ” and “oh, honey” felt appropriate for her character, although I felt that they were repeated too often to seem truly conversational. In addition to the hour-long script Hillam performed a series of songs, including modern pop songs adapted for a 1940s feel, with musical direction, arrangements, and orchestrations by Ned Wright-Smith. The songs included Destiny’s Child’s Survivor and Edith Piaf’s La Vie en rose, among others, and Hillam demonstrated powerful vocals and emotional versatility throughout the performance.

JTM Productions will present Sex, Lies & Betrayal: Memoirs of a Hollywood Star at The Old Museum, Fortitude Valley, on May 6 & 9, at EC Venue, Fortitude Valley, on May 7, and at Method Art Collective, Brendale, on May 8. Ticketing and further information is available on the event page.

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