Bombshells, written by contemporary Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, is a series of vignettes of six women on the brink of breakdown (or break through), all played by award winning performer Christen O’Leary.
With a Helpmann Award, a Matilda, and two Green Room Awards, O’Leary was an obvious choice for Queensland Theatre Company’s artistic director Wesley Enoch, and she certainly delivers the goods in this one woman show.
We first meet Meryl; a self-depreciating mother of three (including baby) who manically tries to do everything a mother has to do in a day – feeding the kids, taking them to school, paying the bills, organising birthday parties and spending quality time with the children and husband. All the while thinking that every other mother is doing a better job than she. Meryl is hilarious in her frenetic energy and the recognition that there’s a little bit of Meryl in every single mother (or father) in the audience. A poor mother on over-drive (who is yet to have her first coffee of the day), is all too familiar and captures the audience from the very first frantic word.
O’Leary then transforms into Tiggy, a member of the North Hetherton Cactus and Succulent League, or ‘cactophile’ as she puts it. With the help of an ancient slide show, Tiggy timidly delivers a speech outlining the virtues of having a cactus as a faithful companion, drawing many parallels between the very phallic plant and her recently lost love and unfaithful Harry. This is a bitter-sweet piece that is both touching and amusing and delivered with humility.
We change pace yet again to meet Mary, a Glee wanna-be who is determined to defend her title at her girl’s school talent show, only to find out moments before going onstage that her arch nemesis has stolen her act. So what does any ‘professional’ performer do in this situation? – she improvises. Having never heard O’Leary sing, it was a pleasant surprise when she began her rendition of Mr Mistoffeles – was she in fact an Andrew Lloyd Webber cat in a former life? However, the dance probably would have let her down in the call-backs, as it lacked that razzle-dazzle. Keeping in mind however, that the piece was originally a star vehicle for Caroline O’Connor, this was a big kitty-cat costume to fill. Perhaps cutting the dance piece short or making those few minutes sparkle a little more would help. (Maybe it just needed jazz hands and a running man step!?). I jest.
The fourth vignette was Theresa, a very Australian, very inebriated bride-to-be, who starts off as “so f*#king happy!” As she dresses for her impending nuptials, which she has been dreaming about since grade ten, this giddy bride goes from hysterics of joy to screams of desperation as she realises its always and only ever been about the dress! With sentiments of Muriel’s Wedding, this vignette was one of the highlights in its hilarity. After all, who doesn’t love a good wedding crisis (as long as it’s not you).
The fourth vignette, Winsome was perhaps the most poignant and in depth character of all the women. As a widower, Winsome’s routine helps her fill her days and make her feel that her life is worthwhile. She explains that the best thing that can happen to a widower is the unexpected. She goes on to tell about a job she takes as a reader for a young, good looking, blind university student, and at sixty-eight years of age, the unexpected did indeed happened.
This was a lovely and refreshingly unexpected piece as the story unraveled. The character portrayed as a conservative, well educated and resourced widow was a vast difference from the characters before. The story itself was lovely and satisfying, but it also pointed out the remarkable dynamic range of Christen O’Leary’s talent.
The last character we encountered was Zoe, a past-her-used-by-date Diva. She enters wearing a stunning silver cabaret dress and halts between drunken versus of her singing number to break into an exposition of her demise, or delluded resolution to make a comeback. Although the set up was great, it seems that there wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before and ran much like the resume of many fading starlets (Judy Garland comes to mind). However, sitting within a set of vignettes on the lives of various women of all ages and walks of life, it does have a place in commenting that everyone, including the rich and famous, have desires, dreams, less than perfect realities, and their own public and private pain.
Each vignette was supported by a striking revolving set, designed by new Resident Designer, Simone Romaniuk, where one side was concave and the other were convex flats that were used as cupboards hiding kids toys and various other props. It brought a wonderfully dazzling surprise in the last scene with the concave flats forming a wall of mirrors with complementary lighting by Daniel Anderson and David Walters as the backdrop to the fading glitter gal Zoe.
Christen O’Leary is to be commended for the sheer endurance and gamut of talented needed to portray six very different women of various ages and background, and keep the audience’s attention for the entire time. This would be a good show to go with some female friends for a great girl’s night out.
Warnings: Coarse language, sexual references