‘Bombshells’ by prominent Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith is a fast paced, witty series of monologues from six different females characters, ranging from frantic stay at home mum, to confident teen, and aging widow. The characters of Meryl, Tiggy, Mary, Theresa, Winsome and Zoe, were all played by Christen O’Leary. As often seems to be the case in this kind of show, the character’s lives all interact at some stage, albeit briefly in some cases.
‘Bombshells’ showcases O’Leary’s stunning versatility. Not simply through the addition of singing and dance to the spoken monologues, but through her characterisations, from accents to body language. Each character was distinctly different, brought to life by O’Leary’s significant talent. Some of the characters were more ‘real’ and allowed the audience to really empathise and connect with the performance, however. ‘Meryl’, for example, presented a non-stop, almost hysterical internal voice monologue of the thought processes of a stressed and anxious suburban mother. O’Leary barely took a breath during this entire scene, and her performance captured the nature of the sometimes irrational and cruel inner voice that we have all experienced in times of stress. ‘Tiggy’s’ presentation that highlighted the unlikely similarities between raising cacti, and relationships, was heartbreakingly intense and ‘Winsome’s’ monologue, in contrast to the others, was calm and dignified, while dealing with concepts of loss and loneliness, and joy in the unexpected. The characters of ‘Mary’, ‘Theresa’ and ‘Zoe’ were more stylised and less ‘real’ – it was harder to get lost in their story, particularly Zoe, where her stage persona and subsequent vocal performances were somewhat distracting from the individuals actual story. This was definitely more about how the characters were written than O’Leary’s portrayal however, which was consistently impressive.
Some aspects of the set design and staging were a little confusing. The set was relatively simple, consisting of a small dressing room-like area, with a traditional theatre lit mirror and a rack for costumes on stage right, a photographic seamless white backdrop in the centre and an armchair on stage left. Several photographic studio lights were also placed around the stage. The show began with O’Leary seated in the armchair and appearing to be learning her lines, reading a script and running over and over (and forgetting) what turned out to be the first few lines of the first monologue, before drifting off to sleep. Once the first character monologue began, I kept expecting that the relevance of that opening would be explained, but the concept was never touched upon again. The appearance of the set as a photographic studio was also not explained, other than that each monologue ended with a flash, and a photograph of that character would appear on the backdrop. It was unclear why ‘Meryl’ had a series of ‘photos’ taken throughout her monologue – that didn’t happen again with the other characters. Having not seen a performance of ‘Bombshells’ before, I would be curious to know how much of this staging related to the script, and how much was David Bell’s directorial input. This staging appeared to draw attention to the artificiality of the theme – to highlight the ‘performance’ aspect, rather than allow the subtle connections between the characters to drive the story. The ‘dressing room’ effect did provide an ideal location for O’Leary to create each character, with minor costume, makeup and accessory changes. A single item of clothing for each scene was used successfully to create a distinct character.
Sound and lighting was minimal, but used to good effect. As well as the photographic flash effects, the lighting was used to create an interesting shadow effect during ‘Mary’s’ dance scene and to highlight ‘Zoes’ cabaret style performance, and sound was used to accompany several musical components of the monologues, and to provide additional characters, such as the teacher announcing ‘Mary’s’ talent show.
The script itself was highly entertaining, with lots of laughs, particularly during the ‘Mary’, ‘Tiggy’ and ‘Winsome’ monologues. This may have related as much to the stronger relationship the audience felt with those characters, as it did to the actual comedic content of those scenes.
‘Bombshells’ was both amusing and thought provoking, and the energy and commitment that Christen O’Leary brought to each character was amazing. A very worthwhile way to spend an evening – playing at The Malthouse Theatre until the 28th.