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Moonlight & Magnolias (Newbury)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Anyone who has thrilled to the romance of Oscar-winning blockbuster Gone with the Wind, may be surprised to hear that MGM studios almost failed to complete the film! Ron Hutchinson’s razor-sharp comedy tells the hilarious story of its birth pangs.

Producer David O Selznick may have a plush office and the most devoted personal assistant in Tinseltown, but his life is crumbling round him. He’s just sacked both scriptwriter and director working on the film - and he’s prepared to beg, bribe or bully Ben Hecht and Victor Fleming to take over. Heck, he’s actually pulling Fleming off directing The Wizard of Oz!

They’ve got five days to rewrite the script and Hecht hasn’t even read the book. So Selznick organises a lock-in and feeding his captives only on bananas and peanuts, ‘brain food’, he dragoons Fleming into helping him act out the entire book, with himself as Scarlett and Fleming as everyone else. All the while Hecht taps away at his typewriter – like Rumpelstiltskin’s miller’s daughter spinning flax into gold!

Extraordinarily, this is based on a true story, which Hutchinson has spun into gold. The situation is ripe for the Hecht brand of humour and Hutchinson brilliantly brings it to comic life, matching and even surpassing the quick-fire dialogue of Hecht’s own sublime comedies, like The Front Page. And director Mark Rosenblatt and his cast deliver the goods with spades in this slick, welcome revival.

Kim Wall as Selznick gives a masterclass in manic comic acting, veering between pleading and bullying, his body language as eloquent as his words. He’s gloriously funny as Scarlett, a big middle-aged masculine presence finding his inner feisty young bitch! He’s well matched by Brian Protheroe’s great comic turn as Fleming, starting louche and becoming increasingly desperate as the stage piles high with the skins of the bananas that are constipating him and the manic re-enactment requires him to go into labour!

Richard Attlee’s Hecht is a wonderfully dark brooding presence as the cynical cine-world weary sceptic, resigned to spinning dross into different dross that is box office gold. He is though, fired by his well-founded fears for the fate of his fellow Jews in Europe on the eve of World War Two and Attlee delivers his harangues to Selznick to take note and give generously with a gripping passion.

Karen Mann offers superb support as devoted Miss Poppenghul, investing the words "Yes" and "No, Mr Selznick" with comic eloquence. And designer Ben Stones’ oak-lined office, a shoe-in at the Watermill, provides the perfect claustrophobic setting, the panoramic window behind reminding its occupants that there’s a world outside waiting for them to deliver the goods...

- Judi Herman


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