(reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 21 October)
Ron Hutchinson’s play is a comedy – not to say farce – on the outside which wraps itself around some serious issues. Ostensibly it’s about the making of the film Gone With the Wind, more precisely about the fractured start to what became one of the greatest box-office successes of all time.
We’re in the Hollywood office of David O Selznick (Mark Little), the studio boss who has fired both the director and the script-writer. To replace the one, he hauls Victor Fleming (Richard Burnip) off The Wizard of Oz. His new choice for dramatist is Ben Hecht (Derek Howard), who hasn’t even read Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 book.
Money is leaching out of Selznick’s coffers as an expensive crew and even more expensive cast wait to resume filming. Somehow in five days a scenario needs to be produced for Fleming to work out scenes and camera angles and a script developed for the actors to learn. Hecht is more than reluctant to be involved.
Selznick’s solution is a radical one. He locks himself and the other two men in his office; Hecht has to make the script from the frantic and compressed rôle-playing by Selznick and Fleming. That’s where the fun really begins, though Hecht never lets us forget what is happening to the Jewish population in Europe as Hitler lurches towards war.
He sees the situation of Negroes in the ante bellum Deep South as providing a parallel. It’s a clever performance by Howard, never grasping at the audience’s understanding of his problems and principles but letting them seep across into our consciousness. Burnip has rather drawn the short straw in this threesome but makes his quieter mark just the same.
Catherine Lomax’s production whisks everything along as the stage gradually becomes strewn with peanuts, banana-skins and page after page of rejected copy. Popping in and out of the action is Alexis Caley as Miss Poppenghul, Selznick’s dutiful but put-upon secretary. it’s a neat character study.
But the performance which dominates is that of Little. His timing is impeccable as, from his centre-stage desk with its bank of telephones, Selznick commands, cajoles, threatens and ultimately oh-so-subtly bribes. Alistair Rivers’ set is excellent and Chris Janes orchestrates the fight scenes with just the right blend of realism and stage convention. It seems a pity that this production only has a limited season at its home theatre.
Moonlight & Magnolias runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 24 October.