The Glass Protégé
Written by Dylan Costello
Directed by Matthew Gould
On entering Park 90 – The Park Theatre’s more intimate studio space, we were presented with a canopied bed and 1940s film footage projected on to fabric of the canopy, headlined by a ‘HOLLYWOODLAND’ sign. Fortunately my plus one and I had made it in fairly early on, so made for the middle at the back, and we would advise anyone else seeing the show to do the same. The theatre is set up in thrust, meaning that any audience located on the two sides of the stage may struggle to see the film footage.
The scene starts in the 1980s, a vulnerable young girl, Ada (Sheena May) arrives in Los Angeles from Berlin, following the fall of the wall. She has entered in to an arrangement in which she has essentially been ‘bought’ by George (Stephen Connery-Brown), a middle aged man who has notably suffered the effects of being a ‘by-product’ of Hollywood. He was a child born out of a marriage forged between his father, Pat (Paul Lavers) and a young starlet simply to benefit the success of a movie in the 1940s. Ava becomes Pat’s assistant, against his wishes, whilst George plans to marry her and break the news to his father. Lavers creates a tetchy and aggressive Pat, yet carefully plays another edge to his personality, allowing both us and Ava to warm to him. The story is marked out in chapters, flipping between Pat in the 1980s and the birth of his Hollywood career in the 1940s – The Hollywoodland sign announcing the passages of time – we are told early on the ‘Land’ was removed in the late 1940s; thus the ‘Land’ flashes on and off in accordance with the time period we’re in.
It’s very much the story of male Hollywood, the female characters revolving around the men, whose stories take centre stage – all the archetypal characters one would expect from the time period: the fat-cat, larger than life, misogynistic producer (Roger Parkins), the quivering Englishman – Patrick (David. R. Butler), fresh faced, frightened and adorable just stepping out in to the ‘game’ of Hollywood, juxtaposed against the confident, brash and cocky American star – Jackson (Alexander Hulme). With regards to the women we follow Candice Carlisle (Emily Loomes), the young starlet, full of hope and promise, though of course doomed from the offset. And also the vicious and conniving journalist, Nella (Mary Stewart) desperate to get the scoop on the young Hollywood actors and prepared to go to great lengths to make or break their careers as she so chooses. It’s a story of power, and lack of it, and playing ‘the game’ – the ultimate prize being that of success, fame and fortune. I felt the women were pushed to the side a lot, and even the seemingly powerful ones, often stepped aside to make way for the men, both in the story and in terms of the script. Of course, that is probably how it looked and seemed from the edges in 1940s Hollywood, but I couldn’t help but want to know more about the stories of these women of Hollywood.
The story rotated around that of Patrick and Jackson – the latter a self proclaimed ‘homosexual’ as he frequently refers to himself, demonstrating the way Hollywood labelled and the effect that had on him and his self-perception. Their friendship rapidly turns in to a lust affair, after a drunken fumble at a Hollywood party, and appears to become more serious quite rapidly. The series of events feels very fast-paced in the show, but satisfying and believable enough for the story.
The cast were incredibly strong, and carried the script well. Emily Loomes is relatively fresh from drama school, but I expect we will see a lot more of her in the near future, she played Candice Carlisle with candour and sparkle and captured the sweet innocence of the 1940s Hollywood Starlet with ease. Mary Stewart’s Nella and Parkins’ Lloyd were easy to loathe as the scheming duo, puppeteering the lives of the Hollywood ‘kids’. Meanwhile in the 1980s, May’s Eva was incredibly sweet and stubborn all at once, the monologue of her harrowing past in East Berlin and her reasons for coming to America was a touching moment in the show, and brought a gentle break – a moment for thought within the show.
The ending had a slight twist, which I felt wasn’t entirely believable and was played out for sentimentality over realism, it felt just a little bit laboured and almost formulaic. Aside from that, I found myself incredibly drawn in to the world created on stage by writer Dylan Costello, caught up in the glistening lights, champagne bubbles and glamour of the stars, it was a pleasure to immerse myself in to their world for a couple of hours.
On at Park Theatre (London) until 9th May 2015
Booking: 020 7870 6876
Photo by: Mia Hawk