The star of this show is Caroline O'Connor and a star is truly what she is, one capable of single-handedly filling the stage with more raw theatrical energy and pure chutzpah than any one person should rightfully possess.
And energy is what O’Connor needs to successfully detonate these Bombshells, six somewhat clichéd down-but-not-quite-out women of varying ages, nationalities and circumstances. Abridged for Edinburgh, the West End gets the full half-dozen (as opposed to four at the festival) monologues which Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith was commissioned to write especially for O’Connor.
In a programme note, Murray-Smith recalls how she relished the idea of Bombshells as “a wonderful opportunity for both Caroline and me to stretch in new directions”: for the playwright (best known in this country for Honour, her three-hander about marital breakdown, at the National last year) the chance to “write broad comedy, with a view to physical action”, for O’Connor the chance to “travel more deeply into a character”.
Just how deeply O’Connor is able to travel given the limitations of some of Murray-Smith’s material here is questionable. However, there’s no doubt that those familiar with this talented performer for her multi award-winning musical credits (including the 1996 Olivier-nominated Mack and Mabel in this country and Moulin Rouge on screen) will be surprised and delighted by the dramatic range she displays, from an over-exuberant 15-year-old Pop Idol wannabe to a repressed widow and an unsteady Liza Minnelli-like diva intent on a comeback. The phrase tour de force was invented for the likes of O’Connor’s performance.
However, with the full-length running time topping two-and-a-half hours – an incredible length, particularly for a solo vehicle – I wonder if keeping a trimmer Edinburgh-sized show might have been a better idea for both O’Connor and her audience. Certainly, I could live without Murray-Smith’s re-inserted lecture on cacti and absent husbands.
- Terri Paddock