Venue: Theatre Royal (Sydney NSW), Jun 18 – Jul 5, 2015
Playwright: James Kirkwood
Director: Christopher Renshaw
Cast: Maxwell Caulfield, David Denis, Leah Howard, Phillip Lowe, Hayley Mills, Juliet Mills
James Kirkwood’s 1987 comedy Legends! is about screen sirens wrestling with the fact that time can be unkind, and that parts of us are considered over-the-hill before we are ready to acknowledge their demise. The script is only 28 years old, but it feels more dated than the characters it portrays. Many of the jokes are tired, and its inclusion of African-Americans only as servants and strippers is clearly inappropriate for today’s milieu. All the personalities are simplistic, and although we recognise them on the level of stereotypes, they are not affecting beyond anything archaic and predictable.
Direction of the work by Christopher Renshaw does not seek to invent a new sense of humour in order to update the tone and feel of the text, but his show is nevertheless, tightly paced and energetic. The plot is relayed with clarity and enthusiasm, but its lack of wit is unable to be disguised. It must be noted though, that Justin Nardella’s achievements as designer on the production is remarkable, with set and costumes in particular, conveying a striking glamour that is quite captivating.
Performances by the show’s stars, Hayley and Juliet Mills, are polished and engaging. Their interpretation of dueling has-beens at the centre of the play is not wicked enough for the show to be much more than amusing, but we are impressed by the thoroughness of their professionalism in what is evidently a very well-rehearsed performance. The Mills sisters have gestures and voices that demonstrate their admirable stage expertise, and even though the story being told is not filled with passion, the duo’s dedication and enjoyment of their art are lovely to behold. Also exuberant are supporting actors Leah Howard and David Denis, who contribute significant luster to a very conventional production. Their impulsive and lively approach provides buoyancy to an otherwise contrived style of presentation.
Legends! is an old-fashioned comedy, which is not to say that it will not find an audience. It holds appeal for certain cultural segments, but is perhaps not a popular choice for the rest of us. What is it that makes people laugh is never a certainty, and the rules are never stable. Time and space, along with humour, are constantly in flux, and what was once hilarious can now be tedious. Sylvia and Leatrice might no longer be relevant to today’s movie-going public, but their voice should still persist, even just to tide with the sands of time in anticipation of trends and tastes to return.