Friday, February 17, 2017

Always... Patsy Cline - The Q

Review by John Lombard

A tale of two jes' folks - Always... Patsy Cline travels back to the heyday of the honky-tonk for an affectionate tribute to the country music legend (Courtney Conway a very chic Patsy Cline), viewed through the eyes of her number one fan, divorced mum of two Louise (Mandi Lodge).

The script by Ted Swindley (also original director, although this production has been helmed by Denny Lawrence) splits the show between Conway's soulful recreation of Patsy Cline's signature tunes and comic patter from Lodge's gauche and obsessive but good-hearted fan.

Louise first spots Patsy Cline on morning TV and plonks down next to her kids to gape at the young, pretty and talented singer.  As a tough and hardy woman she sees her own life experience expressed by Patsy, in the way that great musicians can speak for us better than we can for ourselves.  She immediately begins to bombard the local radio station with music requests and when her idol comes to town on tour she pounces at the chance to meet her hero.

Of course, in a fairy-tale development the unlikely pair become fast friends, a situation more charming because it is difficult to imagine happening today with megastars like Kanye or Adele - well, maybe with Tay Tay.  But with Patsy Cline at the cusp of fame and a more innocent 50s setting the fairy-tale becomes believable.

Early on the script establishes that Louise is smart, tough and accomplished, and this means that while she is a figure of fun it is not of contempt.  In Louise's own words, "fool I am and a fool I shall always be".  Lodge plays her with a mincing skip and a lot of brass - outrageous, zestful and indefatigable.

For much of the show Louise speaks for Patsy, lathering on her many virtues, while Cline is strangely distant and doll-like, especially after she sheds her cowgirl duds for a succession of trim and tailored frocks.  Louise informs us that they tell each other their darkest secrets and form a deep friendship, but we never hear the details, except that Patsy unfurls some of her marriage problems.

A serious take on the situation would have untangled some knotty and interesting issues, especially since Conway's idealised Cline seems to leap straight off the television and into Louise's kitchen.  Is this just a performer putting on a persona for an enthusiastic fan?  Does Louise invest too much in Pasty Cline, and by extension are we too celebrity-mad?

But for a tribute show the tone is adroitly judged, with Louise savvy enough to know that when they part after two days of adventures that the celebrity will probably not keep in touch.  When Louise does get letters and phone calls from the genuinely friendly country star, it feels like a reward for her restraint and nous.

Courtney Conway believably covers Patsy Cline, finding the singer's toughness and practicality that invests even the songs of heartbreak with a sense of resilience and endurance.  With Louise slipping down into the audience to cavort, the line between the tables watching the show and the honky-tonk on stage was delightfully blurred.  The sparse but effective set with a microphone, mini-jukebox, and period kitchen table and window perfectly evoked the era.  The band were also lively, with Louise forcing the drummer to keep an appropriate country tempo by mime a particular comic highlight.

Always... Patsy Cline is everything a fan could want from a tribute, a better than real memory of a great singer.  The real Patsy Cline was not seen on stage, only hinted at, but by having Louise as the lens through which we view her the show provides a fresh twist on the dead famous person genre. 

Mandi Lodge delights us with her humour and Courtney Conway moves us with her singing, a double act greater than the sum of its parts - an immensely charming salute to Patsy Cline.

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