Through the Mill But Not Over the Rainbow

Penny Flood enjoys a new play about Judy Garland but misses her favourite song

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There's probably nothing new to say about the life and death of Judy Garland, and this affectionate, non-judgemental work by Ray Rackham doesn't try to offer new insights, it just tells the story of a deeply insecure woman who never found love, while being battered by a pushy mother, studio bosses, managers and various men  who took advantage of her and her enormous talent.

It's a clever three hander opened by Helen Sheals as CBS Judy, the fading star refusing to accept that her television show isn't doing very well.

Sheals is terrific in the role, tottering around on high heels with a glass of whisky to hand, never far from her pills and massively in debt. Wise cracking and defiant when there are people around, fragile and introspective when she's alone. This is when she looks back over her life and we meet her two alter egos.

 Lucy Penrose is the vulnerable but ambitious Young Judy who, wearing nothing more than a pair of baggy knickers, is dragged on to the stage by her mother who bandages her breasts to flatten them for the audition of Dorothy on Wizard of Oz. The studio wanted a child not a young woman with a bosom and Shirley Temple wasn't available.

Judy is ambitious as we see when Belinda Wollaston appears as Palace Judy, international star of stage and screen, but still insecure and unsure of herself. She falls for and eventually marries her manager Sid Luft and they come together in a riveting, almost-no-holds- barred love scene. That's the end of the first act, the second act opens as they are laying back sharing a cigarette.

Sometimes the Judies come together to sing  duets and even trios which works well to emphasise how the grown woman is a product of her past and she can't escape it.

The songs are a selection of Judy Garland standards that include You Made Me Love You, Zing Went the Strings of My Heart with a smashing rendition of The Trolley Song. Nine of the cast play instruments and they all get stuck in.

Ray Rackham's script is intelligent, sharp, and witty, well researched and thoroughly enjoyable.

My only complaint is that in spite of being teased with yellow brick roads, rainbows and occasional snatches of the song during the show, we never got to hear Somewhere Over the Rainbow all the way through at the end.

Through the Mill was written by Ray Rackham, Artistic Director of London Theatre Workshop, and librettist lyricist of last Christmas’ 5* smash hit, Apartment 40C. It was directed by Max Reynolds with choreography by Chris Whittaker.

Through the Mill continues until December 19, Tuesday-Saturday at 8pm with Saturday and Sunday matinees 5pm. Tickets cost £15.

London Theatre Workshop is at 65 New King's Road, above the Eel Brook Pub.

 

December 9, 2015