It’s highly possible that Laurence Olivier’s 1938 Christmas dinner was ruined by his host George Cukor revealing that Larry’s lover, Vivien Leigh had won the coveted part of Scarlett O’Hara. Gone with the Wind was perhaps the book of the thirties and, according to who you read, almost every leading actress in Hollywood had been up for the part. Katherine Hepburn had been close but producer David O Selznick just couldn’t see Rhett pursuing her for ten years… but Vivien Leigh was a whole different matter: there was something about Vivien; something untamable.
Writer Simone Leonardi has done a splendid job of imagining the tensions between the young talents as they viewed cinematic as well as theatrical world-dominance. Vivien appears the stringer of the two characters in this counter-factual view with poor Larry suffering adverse reactions to his food possibly related to the shock of Scarlett: she taunts him as a “self-centred, half-faggot” married to a lesbian wife – none of which I can verify either way but it makes for the cattiest of fights.
|Grace under pressure... Photo: Rooful Ali|
Larry’s no dope though and he gives as good as he gets with less direct but equally devastating passive aggression: he has class and experience on his side, an actor not requiring direction who could act any role… “the words, the action resides in the words…” he declares reading through Rhett Butler’s lines.
He tells Vivien that he’s up for the role of Rhett even though he knows she doesn’t think he’s masculine enough or certainly as much as Mr Gable. Larry tries to drag Clark down to his level by concocting lines about how he had to turn tricks to replace his crooked teeth… un-sexing Clark Gable will take a lot more than desperate-dodgy dentistry Mr Olivier.
The two are in love, both unhappily married but they are also in competition; it’s the nature of their fame and whilst their minds can brilliantly analyse the meaning of lines, they struggle to communicate their basics.
|Larry-lookin' Photo: Rooful Ali|
It takes the arrival of George Cukor, the film’s original director before Victor Fleming took over, to bring the sparring into focus with a revelation that breaks your heart… Scarlett may well bring Vivien immortality but what will she have to sacrifice?
This incident – not telling! - may or may not be true but the two lovers successfully divorced their respective partners and went on to be married from 1940 to 1960, no doubt enjoying many such nights as this: daggers drawn in deep affection.
Playing an icon is no easy task but Sophia Eleni gives her all as a Vivien Leigh fighting for her professional her love life at the greatest moment of weakness/opportunity. Leigh had mental helath issues for most of her life but there’s an unique intelligence and uncanny spark that lifts her performances above most other mere mortal actors. Sophia gave it the full Vivien and her sparkle held the room rapt from beginning to end.
|George applies the pressure... Photo: Rooful Ali|
Larry was no slouch either and Federico Moro was well cast – he even looked like Olivier dimpled chin to boot! – and managed the great man’s slightly odd diction.
Tino Orsini carried all the gravitas of George Cukor as he rushed in to force the talent to make the right decision… in a hard-headed business such as this, it’s ironic that he ended up sacked in favour of Fleming.
Raffaele Cericola’s direction was spot on, making the most of the Etcetera’s space and his performers who interpreted Simone Leonardi’s smart script so well that the spirit of Scarlett hovered over the room…
|Sophia Eleni and Federico Moro Photo: Rooful Ali|
The show runs until 30th April and deserves to be seen - but you better be quick! For reservations and more information, please contact email@example.com or the Etcetera Theatre.
Ithankyou Theatre Rating: ****