Moonlight and Magnolias (4 stars)

Ron Hutchinson's comedy explores the story behind the making of a Hollywood epic

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Moonlight and Magnolias

Steven McNicoll and Joseph Chance

The strange alchemy that sorts screen hits from cinematic turkeys is energetically explored in Ron Hutchinson’s play about the events leading up to the shooting of Hollywood blockbuster, Gone with the Wind. The story behind the filming of Margaret Mitchell’s American Civil War epic is as gripping as the movie itself. Weeks into the shoot, producer David O Selznick pulled Victor Fleming off another MGM production, the near-completed The Wizard of Oz, and barricaded the director, screenwriter Ben Hecht and himself into his office with a five-day deadline to overhaul the script.

Rachel O’Riordan’s production for Perth Theatre fully captures the frenzy and growing delirium of this incident, cleverly reimagined by Hutchinson as a mix of intense creativity fuelled by bananas and peanuts and despondent soul-searching. The stakes are high for all three protagonists. While Selznick (a brilliantly belligerent Steven McNicoll) desperately needs a hit to impress his father-in-law, the MGM boss Louis B Mayer, Hecht (Joseph Chance), ‘the Shakespeare of Hollywood’, is torn between hackwork and his calling as a ‘serious’ writer. Fleming (Benny Young), meanwhile, is haunted by the prospect of returning to his lowly origins as a studio chauffeur.

Hutchinson builds enough pauses into the breathless pace to examine the tension between art and box office, the status of Jews in America at a point when the world is poised to slide into war, and the intangible combination of determination and luck that births a smash hit. Fans of the film will enjoy the genesis of certain key sequences, most notably Scarlett O’Hara’s escape from a burning Atlanta and the painstaking creation of Rhett Butler’s famous final line.

Along the way are several moments of delicious irony for those familiar with the movie’s eventual fate. Throughout their five-day ordeal both Hecht and Fleming are convinced they’re condescending to lend their time and talent to a dud, with Fleming opting to take a one-off fee rather than a percentage. To date, adjusted for inflation, Gone with the Wind remains the highest grossing film of all time.

Perth Theatre, until Sat 31 Mar. RUN ENDED.

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