REVIEW:’Frances and Ethel’ , Oran Mor, Glasgow

A Play, A Pie and A Pint

Judy Garland’s life was a well-documented struggle: the small all-rounder with the huge voice, controlled by a Hollywood system which ultimately broke her. David Cosgrove’s play, directed by Mary McCluskey takes the conventional, linear form of a biopic with mixed results.

Frances Thorburn takes the role of Judy, or just plain Frances Gumm, looking for the elusive father figure and hiding in drink and drugs. Sometimes, she is a self-possessed woman; at other times, a diva complaining of being sandwiched in audiences between glamour pusses Deanna Durbin and Lana Turner . Mostly though, she wears the hurt of a little girl.

It’s there, in the tremor of Garland’s speaking voice, and the ache of her singing. Danny Boy never sounded so heartbreaking, or faltering, as she recalls her beloved daddy, as adored as her mother was feared.

John Kielty’s multiple roles are fine (he plays Garland’s irascible friend Sal, father Frank and husband Sid) but sometimes they feel a little underwritten. Possibly a comment on the interchangeable nature of her men.

The first half suffers a little in exposition- heavy dialogue, which labours each point somewhat, but it transforms into something much richer , particularly when mother Ethel (Alison Peebles on blistering form) appears as a ghost no amount of pills and booze can erase, whether demanding money from MGM, or appearing to needle Judy for her looks, status or relationship problems. It’s here the show really comes into its own.

As a victim of the patriarchal industry, Judy’s tale is one which is still sadly all-too-familiar, but although this path is a well-worn one, Thorburn brings a shiver of vulnerability to the songs- particularly A Star Is Born‘s beautiful The Man That Got Away.

”The world grows colder/ Suddenly, you’re older”.

(Lorna Irvine)



Frances Thorburn and John Kielty

All photos by Leslie Black



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