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Vivien Leigh - The Last Press Conference

By • West End
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Serendipity featured largely in the life of British film and stage star Vivien Leigh. As she herself acknowledged, she essentially played "three great roles: Scarlett, Blanche and Lady Olivier."

As well as her two great film parts, each a benchmark of cinema, she and Olivier occupied a position as the golden couple of their day, feted worldwide. Life and work overlapped, often with dramatic effect. Brought up in India, she married young, launched herself as an actress and then set her heart on portraying Margaret Mitchell's famous heroine Scarlett O'Hara in David Selznick's film of Gone with the Wind. Thousands of actresses were screentested for this coveted role but Leigh's characteristic willpower and tenacity eventually paid dividends and the role became indelibly hers; the image that she chose to cherish as her life later unravelled.

Using the ingenious conceit of a press conference held in 1960, Miss Leigh (as rendered by Marcy Lafferty), immaculately groomed in purple suit and filmstar shades and wafting glamour, arrives early at the venue where she spots an old friend whose presence sparks a flood of reminiscences. She looks back at her triumphs and tragedies of her life and career, briefly revisiting her childhood days, fondly remembering first husband Leigh Holman (who provided the inspiration for her stage name) and discussing great love Laurence Olivier who she set her heart upon in the same determined fashion as was later the case with the role of Scarlett.

Creating dramatic conflict and holding the audience's attention is no mean feat when you only have one player to occupy the stage. But Lafferty is more than up to the challenge, thanks in no small part to her intimate knowledge of the subject matter. She was inspired to create the stage play after completing her own short film Vivien, The Movie, The Marriage, The Madness. And now here, under John Edward Blankenchip's direction, Lafferty is simply spellbinding as Leigh, using many of the actress's own words and capturing her distinctive voice, mannerisms and general mien to perfection.

Beautiful, spirited and talented, Leigh's life was haunted by the spectre of manic depression; an illness that, in conjunction with incipient TB eventually brought premature death in her early fifties. As she witnessed the illness ravage her personality and ultimately deprive her of both marriage and career, she fought back bravely, an aspect of her personality that emerges admirably in Lafferty's superb, sympathetic performance. Unmissable.

- Amanda Hodges


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