Theatre can be so many things, but I find it's at its best when it takes advantage of what it is; when the space is well used, when the actors establish a connection with the audience and when the story is bold, engaging and honest. 'Dirty Blonde' did all these things, and then some.
The play cleverly weaves in and out of two stories, that of the original 'Dirty Blonde', Mae West, and that of two die hard fans, who find each other through their shared love for West. I, who knew nothing of Mae West, other than she was a film actress, grew to admire this 'tough woman' who let nothing stand in her way to fame. Born in 1893, she was a public figure well ahead of her time, penning plays with themes of homosexuality and sexual liberation, which landed her a short stint in jail.
The play's strength lies in its honest account of West. While she is deemed worthy of being a person's life-long obsession, the audience also witness her darker sides: her imperfections, her brutality and her decay in later life. This complexity can also be seen in the other characters who, like West, struggle to prove their place in the world and are some of the keenest portrayals of humanity that I've seen in theatre.
It is thus fortunate that a play of such dimensions has a stellar cast. Three actors, Lara Mulcahy, Mark Simpson and Philip Dodd, play who knows how many characters (I lost count) set at varying moments across the 1900s in the USA. Each with a solid background in theatre and musicals, the actors slip seamlessly from character to character, from accent to accent and from speech to song. In what seemed a split second Mulcahy conjured up the spirit of Mae West, after having just been the modern New Yorker, 'Jo'.
At 110 minutes, 'Dirty Blonde' entertains and thrills, throwing the audience into uproars of laughter on several occasions. The funniest lines in the play come from the mouth of the original Mae West herself. "When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I've never tried before." The songs are also West originals and the only disappointment is that there aren't more of them.
Dirty Blonde' is showing at Darlinghurst Theatre, an easy walk from Kings Cross train station, until March 31.