Touring nationally for the second time, the original Australian musical Ladies In Black has returned to the QPAC stage to wonder audiences with glamorous costumes, dazzling performances and unique array of musical numbers. Adapted from Madeleine St. John’s beloved novel Women In Black, the musical Ladies In Black takes all of the magnificent and heartwarming elements of the original story and enhances them through classic musical theatre techniques.
From the moment the show begins the characters, relationships, fashion and social commentary shine bright through the work’s rich score, beautiful performances and humble insights. Set in late 1950s Sydney, the story follows Lisa’s (Sarah Morrison) journey over a summer break after finishing her leaving examination. With her schooling finished and two months before her results arrive Lisa takes a job at ‘Goodes’ where she works in the cocktail dress department. There she meets various women who surprise her and eventually open her up to a world of experience simpatico with her flourishing desire to become a poet and experience the world. While Lisa’s character arc is simple and considerably predictable, her humble nature and vibrant passion carries the plot and compliment the production’s design and score perfectly. Morrison’s enchanting performance welcomes the audience into the story with a beautiful voice and keeps them hooked with an endearing performance from start to finish. Her true stage partner for the story is the misunderstood Madga (Natalie Gamsu) an effervescent European refugee who not only shows Lisa the glamourous gowns, but also a world of culture and friendship Lisa never expected.
While the leading female characters dance gracefully along a line of gratitude and hope, the work also trudges its way through gender norms, racism, and an overall acceptance of conservative social norms concerning love, marriage and careers. While Lisa is told to put her poetry dreams to bed and accept a future as a secretary, her coworkers Fay (Ellen Simpson) and Patty (Madeliene Jones) are struggling with judgement and complacency in their relationships with men. While Patty deals with a repetitive and passionless marriage Fay shoulders an unwanted reputation and cynicism towards men and romance. Simpson and Jones carry their characters from their closed minded and withdrawn beginnings right through their fights against oppression and heart-wrenching setbacks. They both handle their characters’ development remarkably, exuding both strength and vulnerability, sweeping the audience comfortably along with every song, argument or twist.
Just as the characters’ journeys beautifully interweave throughout the plot, designer Gabriela Tylesova’s gorgeous work layered the stage with stunning visuals that enhanced the true heart of the musical. The costumes were undeniably a highlight, with some gowns being pushed to the forefront of the plot through musical numbers or character infatuation, and other costume changes subtly being used to externalize the internal change and development of the characters. Whether it was a marriage altering piece of lingerie or the subtle alterations to Lisa’s understated black work dress’ waistline, the costumes complimented the era, the playful nature of the work and the complex journeys of each character. The set design was equally as elegant with a trio of turntables helping to creatively glide set items and characters on and off stage, layering the stories atop one another smoothly and seamlessly.
While one would think a plot ripe with gender oppression, cringe worthy racism, and portrayals of men as neglectful oppressors would leave a sour taste in the audience’s mouth, this clever, humourous and charming work encourages the opening of closed minds, broadening of horizons, and stepping towards a more inclusive and multifaceted future. The obstinate characters gradually move towards simultaneously accepting their realities and rejecting the unfair standards forced upon them, thereby taking their first small steps towards a more progressive future. This work may be set back in the 1950s, but its originality and hope encourages modern viewers to maintain faith in the past, present and future of our society.
– Written by Rhumer Diball February 1st 2016
LADIES IN BLACK PRESENTED BY QUEENSLAND THEATRE AND QPAC.
28th Jan – 19th Feb