90 minutes. Six women. One actress. No holding back.
By Bradley Storer
Joanna Murray-Smith’s Bombshells, now playing at the Malthouse Theatre, is a theatrical tour de force for the right actress. Six monologues about women of differing locations, ages and personalities, all strung together by the thematic concept of being ‘close to the edge’. Each one is a different set of challenges with the star never leaving the stage (and often barely stopping talking), demanding Herculean stamina and focus from the lead actress.
Luckily, actress Christen O’Leary is more than up to the task, tackling the role from the very beginning with gusto. The first character Meryl, a beleaguered housewife and mother of three, is a whirlwind of frenetic energy, beset by constant anxiety and the never-ending problems of a modern day mother. O’Leary never pauses for a moment, either physically or vocally, drawing both big laughs and eventually great sympathy from Meryl’s trials.
O’Leary individuates all six characters with fantastic vocal and physical choices, embodying each woman with complete authenticity, whether it be an elderly British cactus enthusiast, a boisterous bogan bride-to-be, or an attention-seeking Toorak schoolgirl. The reoccurring flash of a camera reiterates the ‘snapshot’ the audience is receiving of these women’s lives. The finest work is done with the character of Winsome, an ageing widow who ruminates on the philosophical and social implications of widowhood. This sensitive portrayal avoids simple caricature as it takes the audience on a journey both hilarious and touching, ending with an unexpected revelation that simultaneously shocks and leaves you with a smile on your face.
The one low point of the show is the character of Zoe, a Garland-esque diva whose tale of addiction, heartbreak and loss is told cabaret-style in both speech and song. Zoe’s story reads like a weak parody of the common ‘celebrity breakdown’ narrative and lacking in fine individual detail or interesting twists, a surprise considering how well this occurs in every other part of the play. This is in no way the fault of O’Leary, whose performance remains as energetic and committed here as in the rest of the show, allowing her to show off an impressive set of pipes!
This one complaint aside, Bombshells is an enthralling piece of theatre, with each character a joy to spend time with and a disappointment to see finish.
Venue: Coopers Malthouse, Beckett Theatre, 113 Sturt St, Melbourne.
Dates: 23rd Sept – 28th Sept.
Time: Tue – Sat 8pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: $58, Senior $48, Conc $48, Group 6+ $48, Student $28
Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au or at the venue.