'Moonlight and Magnolias' by Ron Hutchinson
Directed by: Richard Parish
For a direct link to the GALLERY of PHOTOGRAPHS of this production CLICK: Moonlight and Magnolias
It’s Hollywood 1939 and the novel “Gone With The Wind” is about to become the biggest hit movie in history except that the maniacal movie producer David O. Selznick has shut down production, fired the director and torn up the script. He is costing the studio thousands of dollars a day.
Thus begins a comedy of hilarious slapstick as Selznick hires reluctant script doctor Ben Hecht, (author of ‘The Front Page’ and possibly the only person in America who hasn’t read the 1000 page plus book), and director Victor Fleming (fresh from punching Judy Garland and squabbling with drunken Munchkins in “The Wizard of Oz”).
Hecht thinks that the book “Gone With The Wind” is another “Moonlight and Magnolias” style piece of rubbish and bound to fail. Not only that, he says, “No Civil War movie ever made a dime”.
Desperate, Selznick locks his two collaborators and himself in his office with nothing but bananas and peanuts to sustain them. Aided by Miss Poppenghul, his super efficient secretary, chaos reigns as Selznick and Fleming have just five days to act out the whole story of Margaret Mitchell’s bestseller for Hecht and in the process, make movie history!
This hilarious and highly acclaimed play, was first produced at the Goodman Theatre, Chicago in 2004 and in London at the Tricycle Theatre in 2007.
This production was presented at Riverhouse, Walton-on-Thames
REVIEW OF 'MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS' BY JEFF THOMSON
Margaret Mitchell is not a name one immediately links with ‘literary greats’ but as the author of Gone with the Wind she is there! Her novel won a Pulitzer Prize in 1936 and sold in tens of thousands. Inevitably a film would be made and Ron Hutchinson’s play, Moonlight and Magnolias traces the unnerving progress that the planning pursued. We learn that the film script was written, re-written and written again; that the original director was sacked; castings changed; jealousies erupted – and in the hands of Hutchinson, himself an award-winning screenwriter, it is crafted in a manner that smacks of authenticity. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had unwittingly created a farcical black comedy and Hutchinson chases after it.
The play is presented by Lighted Fools Theatre Company and directed by Richard Parish, who took full advantage of the MGM chaos to offer the Riverhouse Theatre, Walton audience, a pell-mell adventure into the manic world of film production.
Farce, and at times slapstick, that contorts into ‘cartoon capering’, is notoriously difficult to play and an audience has to have assistance to suspend its disbelief. Help was on hand. Parish had attracted an experienced cast from a wide Surrey area that sustained the necessary frenzy.
Against a set that suggested a film mogul’s office, David Webb played film producer David O. Selznick. For much of the script Selznick is the driving catalyst of the plot – ego driven, domineering and convulsive – and Webb is equal to the role that sets a fast pace. His cue work with David Hemsley-Brown, playing screenwriter Ben Hecht is breath-taking. They punch their way through dialogue and killer lines achieving both emphasis and clarity, despite the anarchy. Into the cauldron comes the replacement film director, Victor Fleming. Fleming has been taken from the set of The Wizard of Oz and complains bitterly, ‘Enough already, I have 160 Munchkins dead drunk in the corridors!’ Played by Graham Collier, the Walton audience roared, at his aside, “They’re singing, ‘ding dong the bitch is dead!’” Here were three actors, with a director, fully in charge of their material. Karen Brooks, as secretary (and tea lady) to Selznick, added to the fun with moments that offered pause and respite to the hysteria. She assumed an appealing ‘ditzy Bronx’ persona, resigned to surviving the mayhem about her; fortunately she does but only just!
The play does not tell us what we now know – Gone with the Wind, despite its embryonic chaos, achieved 10 Academy Awards and world acclaim. Author Margaret Mitchell was involved early-on in a road accident and did not live to see her novel become the highest grossing movie of all time.
For Lighted Fools it is also a triumph. At the conclusion, many in the audience I joined, stood and cheered.
REVIEW OF 'MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS' BY ROGER MOODY
If the most famous quote from Margaret Mitchell’s block buster book Gone With The Wind was Rhett Butler’s, ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’ then arguably that was the film’s producer David O.Selznick’s attitude to those involved in the script re-write.
With just five days to complete the task or face possible financial ruin, Selznick all but imprisoned reluctant writer Ben Hecht and director Victor Fleming in his office and wouldn’t let them out until the new script was finished.
After toiling eighteen hours a day for those five days, on an apparently brain-stimulating diet of only bananas and peanuts – wonder food according to the legendary Selznick – Hecht achieved the seemingly impossible but not without a little help from the producer and the director acting out Mitchell’s unforgettable characters!
And that’s where Moonlight and Magnolias under the clever playwriting of Ron Hutchinson turns the real life drama into a heady mixture of comedy and farce with a few sobering and timely thoughts thrown in for good measure.
Comedy and farce – particularly farce – are the most demanding of skills but under the direction of Richard Parish, Lighted Fools Theatre Company makes a triumphant tenth return to Riverhouse in Walton for a sell-out run.
This might be David Webb’s 13th play with the company but there’s nothing unlucky about this performance. A real tour-de-force as the over-bearing and demanding Selznick, David never let’s up for one moment whether as the great producer himself or as he acts out for Hecht the parts of Scarlett O’Hara and Ashley Wilkes. Great stuff.
The three new faces to Lighted Fools – David Hemsley-Brown as Ben Hecht, Graham Collier as Victor Fleming and Karen Brooks as the wonderfully entertaining Miss Poppengul, secretary to Selznick, all mark their debuts with distinction. Particularly enjoyable was Graham’s take of Rhett Butler – and his face slapping routine with the two Davids.
And for Hemsley-Brown those sobering comments of Hecht’s about, amongst others, race and war.
A mention, too, for the set of Michael Clements. Selznick’s office might have ended up looking like a vast banana and peanut pie on a sea of discarded script papers but in such a confined area as the Riverhouse auditorium, the leather sofa, chair and desk belied the available space.
Too bad these reviews appear after the end of the run because the play was well worth the journey to Walton.
COMMENTS FROM OUR AUDIENCE ON 'MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS'
The play last night was a real 'tour de force' and you should all be very pleased with yourselves. Your company put on a show of genuinely professional quality and kept us entertained and informed during the whole performance. Hard to believe that 'Gone with the Wind' came from such a shambolic beginning.
Thoroughly enjoyed the play. Acting terrific. Held my attention throughout !!
Very well done to all. A really good evening!
The play last night was absolutely superb. I had no idea what it was about, but I have always loved ‘Gone with the Wind’ so it was brilliant. They were so professional.
Just to say how much we enjoyed the play last night. It was excellent. Congratulations on a great production.
What a brilliantly written play, brilliantly executed and perfectly cast. A thoroughly enthralling evening! This production deserves a wider audience.
Superb production very well acted and thoroughly enjoyable. It was exhausting for the actors and the audience.
As I suspected I have been thinking of the play and things keep coming back to me. It was SO good and those actors were fantastic. Another Winner for Lighted Fools!
Once again, you have excelled yourself. It was fantastic - well done to one and all. Your CV is getting longer and long may you carry on giving us mere mortals lots of pleasure. David Webb, as usual, was mind blowing what a talent! Graham Collier, David Hemsley-Brown and Karen Brooks are an asset to the company and we hope to see more of them in the future. Congratulations to all the back stage team too - they did a grand job.
Just wanted to say how much we all enjoyed ‘Moonlight and Magnolias’ last night. Fantastic play, great venue and a very enjoyable evening.
I can’t believe how professional the show was for an amateur production. I’ll move heaven and earth to ensure I get to the next one!
What a great play it was last night, I thought it was excellent. Quite probably the best play yet (I think we keep saying that!)
I think because you have a rough understanding of the story and the people mentioned in the play it definitely helps you relate more, but the acting was just superb. Everyone was perfect for their role, but the lead guy was just outstanding. I love that venue as well. All in all another great night!
Many thanks for an excellent evening. Hugely enjoyable watching four actors take on American accents, frenetic and somewhat unhinged actions (understandable!) with such vitality and gusto! Both of us enjoyed it immensely.
It was terrific and great to see so much energy on stage - especially David Webb, who was brilliant. My congratulations to the cast and to Mike Clements and John Tytherleigh for the set - in fact everyone involved.
Bl....dy marvelous! It was such an entertaining evening - no need to read GWTW now and I don't think I'll ever be able to eat a peanut or a banana again!
The play was one of the most enjoyable - the acting was so vigorous it brought out all the comedy - a wonderful group of actors. The costumes were superb, especially Miss Poppenghul’s. The lighting was just right, including the projection. Well done!
What a brilliant show! No wonder you were sold out. It was just the most enjoyable evening - we hardly stopped smiling all night. Thanks to you and the company for a hugely entertaining performance. It'll be a hard act to follow! Look forward to your next production.
Just wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed your hilarious production of 'Midnight and Magnolias' last night. The set was lovely, the acting wonderful and I think the stage crew deserve a special award for clearing up all those banana skins, paper and peanuts each night. A really great evening out!
We only ever give merited praise and Lighted Fools never fail to entertain and impress.