Ava; The Secret Conversations Riverside Studios February 17

It was poignant yesterday to be reminded that the affections of the public are never fully secured. Here was a leading lady playing a legend, and neither her 80’s films, nor Downton success nor even a film out currently, were enough to get Elizabeth McGovern an audience of more than 50 people for a matinee at Riverside Studios; and 50 people in a theatre of 500 seats feels especially sad for those who once – and not that long ago — rode so high. McGovern is still very beautiful; comfortable onstage, and quite good playing a lonely, suspicious former film star. But she’s no Ava Gardner; she lacks the animal bit and she lacks the sensuality bit. Also, there’s no play. It’s really a string of reminiscences of  famous former husbands (Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra) strung together by some great dialogue taken verbatim from Robert Evans’ opportunistic book, which is much better at evoking that drawly, sexy, forties lingo, than either of the actors in this two-hander (the other is Anatol Yusef, who plays the writer and impersonates the husbands, mostly well: he’s better at Rooney than Sinatra). Aside from seeing movie stars onstage, a fetish of mine, I was also glad to see the mise-en-scene. It’s an attempt to make a movie on stage: partially opened curtains and screens creating a sense of angles; the frame of the stage constantly being altered; and really superb use of video mapping to make of the walls and windows of Ava’s flat anything writer and director desire. There’s also a liberal use of excellently chosen clips of Ava and the husbands, which made one long to see them at the cinema rather than here, in this sad if imaginative imitation, onstage. An educational experience.

José Arroyo

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