Caroline O’Connor is magnificent in Bombshells, playing at the Adelaide Festival Centre this week. It helps that she has been given a fairly solid play to work with, but her brilliance at bringing the various characters to life is stunning.
The play is a series of apparently seperate stories, but in reality they are all linked, in some way, and we see shades of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon in finding the links between them.
The story starts with Meryl Davenport, a busy mother - a bad mother, perhaps, who is more worried about what other people will think of her than anything else. Her day is full, and she never gets time to do everything she needs to do.
Jaq assures me that this is what life is like.
This first act is frenetic, and seemed to me like it went on forever. It was my least favourite part of the play, but it was still alright. We see a fleeting glimpse of a neighbour, who grows cactii. And who’s husband has just left her…
…and she is the star of the second act. Tiggy Entwhistle: a disgruntled wife who has found solace in her succulents, and wishes her husband loved her half as much as the cactii do.
The contrast between these two characters is strong. The busy, yuppie mum who doesn’t have time to have a coffee, to the brooding, emotional cactus-lover. Who even looks like a cactus with her furry green outfit. We learn a lot more about this character than the shallow yuppie mother. We learn how her husband has been flirting it up with a floozy. And we taste the bitterness as she finds out about it, via the ‘door-opening’ episode as a Mary O’Donnell was putting up posters for the talent show…
…who we get to know very well in the next act. This character is a bouncy, vibrant (primary school?) girl, who is about to perform in said talent show. We are treated to a lovely performance of Shaugnessy the Cat as Mary prepares her entry. Again, we learn about this character, and her arch-nemesis, who has ‘huge boobs’, and is performing just before her. Of course, said rival does the same song, and our new hero has to find a new song to perform on the spot. Nothing beats Shaft, especially as the cat’s tail becomes a long, black penis. Fun stuff indeed.
We didn’t get out of the seats during the interval. Already we were discussing the play, although I don’t think I had cottoned onto the fact all of the characters were related, as yet. That was all to change in the fourth act, as the bride preparing for her wedding was none other than the sister of the arch-rival from the previous act, Theresa McTerry.
A bride who is more interested in wearing the dress - apparently it’s all about wearing the dress - than marrying the man she is. As it turns out, she prefers the best man, and has shagged him in the past. If only he weren’t so tall…
I missed the connection to the next character, but this one was my favourite. A widow, all she does is hang around with “the widows”. O’Connors characterisation is truly magnificent, and you really believe it is a sixty-something woman up on stage. The sadness, the depth of feeling, and the excitement as something interesting finally happens to Winsome Webster, other than just going out with “the widows”…
…who happened to go to a show at “Star City” and see a washed-up American singer Zoë Struthers making a comeback. O’Connor slides easily into this character, and we again get a glimpse at another life, as she staggers about on stage - a ‘reformed’ alcoholic who can’t get her legs to do what she wants. Still talented as a singer, and even moving down into the audience, where a conveniently empty chair is the prop for a spectacular fall.
The finale was excellent.
As I say, I only missed the one connection. Meryl → (neighbour of) Tiggy → (husband seen by) Mary → (hates sister of) Theresa → (?) Winsome →(went to see) Zoë.
If anyone knows what it is, I’d love to know. None of the reviews I’ve found on the internet seem to have any mention of the connections. They were to me a key part of the cleverness of the play.
So, was there anything I didn’t like about Bombshells? I loved the connection between the characters, but I disliked the need to pretend it was all happening in Adelaide. From the half-dozen mentions of Golden Grove by Tiggy, to the Star City reference by Winsome, each of them implied - or in some cases stated outright - that these events were happening in the local town. With Zoë, part of the mention of Adelaide was a joke (“Nice to be here in… [looks at hand] …Adelaide again.”) But there were a couple of flaws.
Winsome went to read for a blind man, who lived in the inner city suburbs near the University. To put it blunty, there’s nowhere in Adelaide like that. The closest thing would be North Adelaide. But you wouldn’t call North Adelaide the inner city suburbs, you’d just call it North Adelaide. The parklands mean there’s no other suburbs really near the university. Maybe I’m just being pedantic, but I would rather they just didn’t mention any place names, and don’t try hard to make the audience feel warm and fuzzy that all of this stuff is going on in their home town.