Sunday, May 31, 2015


Written by Phil Ormsby
Directed by Simon Coleman
Presented by Purplestage in association with Gasworks Arts Park and Flaxworks Theatre
Q Theatre, Queanbeyan, 30 May 2015

Review by Len Power

Now almost forgotten, Veronica Lake was a 1940s movie star recognizable for her long blonde hair covering her right eye, giving her a sexy, sultry look.  She worked with Alan Ladd a few times and did good work in ‘Sullivan’s Travels’ and ‘I Married A Witch’.  By 1950 she was past her peak and it was all downhill from there.
Veronica Lake in the 1940s

‘Drowning In Veronica Lake’ takes us behind the glamorous image into the reality of being a sex symbol in Hollywood and what happens when your celebrity is finished.  We’ve seen this kind of thing before but this one stands out as a great theatre as well as an interesting story.

Actress, Alex Ellis, is onstage already when the audience enters the theatre.  She’s dressed in a long gown that spreads out in an extraordinary wide circle around her on the stage.  We quickly realize she can hardly move.  She’s trapped in the gown and in her Hollywood image forever.  It’s a clever concept and captures our interest immediately.

Alex Ellis as Veronica Lake
Phil Ormsby’s strong script moves us quickly through her Hollywood career and life beyond, giving us a detailed picture of this complex and troubled woman.  Her grasping and unfeeling mother, also played by Alex Ellis, was a monster who just added to Veronica Lake’s troubles.  Then there are the failed marriages, the alcoholism, the money that suddenly wasn’t there and the vanishing career.

Alex Ellis as Veronica Lake gives an intense one woman performance that is funny, chilling, moving and ultimately memorable.  Switching suddenly from Veronica Lake to her mother and back again, Ellis never misses a beat in her strong characterizations and makes us sympathise with Veronica Lake and her problems.

There was a particularly good soundscape accompanying the play with snatches of appropriate songs and music that created an excellent atmosphere.  Sound engineer Rohan Evans is credited in the program.  Lighting design by Nik Janiurek was very well done.  The period dress design by Sara Taylor and Elizabeth Whiting made the dress almost a character in itself.

Director, Simon Coleman was produced a very strong, thought-provoking show.  His clever theatricality makes it much more interesting than the usual Hollywood horror story.

Veronica Lake in 1971, aged 48, two years before her death

It was shocking to hear that Veronica Lake died at just 50.  At the end of the play she talks to us from beyond the grave, desperately reaching out to us to keep her image alive.  As we leave the auditorium, the actress stays onstage in the same position as when we entered.  Did we just dream it all?

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 31 May 2015 from 5pm.