Review: Legends! — Theatre Royal, Sydney

The only thing legendary about Legends! is how aggressively mediocre it is. The James Kirkwood play has hit Sydney as a star touring vehicle for Hayley and Juliet Mills, as well as Maxwell Caulfield, and tells a tired, insipid story about  feuding Old Hollywood divas teaming up to revive their careers in a new play.

Klemmer (Caulfied) is the producer of a terrible-sounding off-Broadway show who pretends to be George Clooney over Skype in a diner to entice the divas in question, as well as an investor or two, to get on board with Star Wars: The Play.

JULIET MILLS (SYLVIA GLENN), HAYLEY MILLS (LEATRICE MONSÉE, DAVID DENIS (BOOM-BOOM JOHNSON) AND LEAH HOWARD (ARETHA THOMAS) | PHOTO BY JEFF BUSBY
JULIET MILLS (SYLVIA GLENN), HAYLEY MILLS (LEATRICE MONSÉE, DAVID DENIS (BOOM-BOOM JOHNSON) AND LEAH HOWARD (ARETHA THOMAS) | PHOTO BY JEFF BUSBY

Skype is one of a few modern updates to the text that, rather than feeling like a natural assimilation into the future, sticks out like a sore thumb – the others include a mention of Facebook and an unfortunate reference to the celebrity coupling of Charlize Theron and Sean Penn, who in unfortunate timing for this unfortunate production, ended their relationship this week.

Sylvia Glenn (Juliet Mills) and Leatrice Monsee (Hayley Mills) haven’t spoken in a long, long time. Two sides of Hollywood’s Madonna/Whore complex (Sylvia won an Academy Award for playing a sex worker; Leatrice won hers for playing a nun), they have been embroiled in a jealous dispute for years.

Pretending to be richer and less desperate than they are, this potential meeting with Klemmer is held at a mutual friend’s house, featuring its very own painful stereotype, the Sassy Black Maid (Aretha, played by Leah Howard).

It gets worse. There are cringe-worthy jokes, a desperate striptease, and so much half-hearted physical comedy that’s so awful that it almost becomes funny in its own right. Christopher Renshaw’s direction has a clearly light touch; it’s difficult to find any strong choices – or choices – that have been made with the material.

JULIET MILLS (SYLVIA GLENN) AND HAYLEY MILLS (LEATRICE MONSÉE) | PHOTO BY JEFF BUSBY
JULIET MILLS (SYLVIA GLENN) AND HAYLEY MILLS (LEATRICE MONSÉE) | PHOTO BY JEFF BUSBY

By the time the actresses get stoned on “Voodoo juju” hash brownies, it’s not even unintentionally funny anymore, just lazy.

The company powers through the show with at least a little bit of rigour; Mills and Mills pour as much fire into their barbs and wig-snatching as they possibly can, and Howard is working as hard as she can to bring some life into the weary, creaky beast;  Caulfied’s character, too,  is obnoxious, but he’s doggedly and almost pleasingly committed to that obnoxiousness.

But this play is so maddeningly average that it’s almost non-theatre; It’s paint-by-numbers. It is the pretty coffee table book you didn’t buy to read, just to collect and sit on a table, gathering dust. It is a pointless exercise.

The most successful things Legends! does is prove an old aphorism true for all those Parent Trap and Passions fans out there: Never meet your heroes. They’ll only disappoint you.

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and is the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

One thought on “Review: Legends! — Theatre Royal, Sydney

  • I am SOOOOO glad I decided my knee was too sore. It makes reading your review an even greater pleasure than it otherwise might have been. Thanks Cassie!

    Reply

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