The Financial Times

“It is a touching piece, sustained
delightfully by Marcy Lafferty”

Wednesday 5th September, 2001

At one point in her one-woman show about the life of Vivien Leigh, the actress Marcy Lafferty tells us there are five stages to an actor’s career: “Who is Vivien Leigh? Get me Vivien Leigh. Get me a Vivien Leigh. Get me a young Vivien Leigh. Who is Vivien Leigh?” Lafferty’s show is set just as her subject slithers from the fourth to the fifth stage: When we meet Miss Leigh, she has already suffered the indignity of one cub reporter asking her what part she played in Gone With The Wind.

And so, Vivien Leigh: The Last Press Conference is as much about the fickle nature of fame as it is about the actress’s life – how long will it be before someone asks: “Who are Posh and Becks?”

The show, written and performed by Marcy Lafferty and forged largely from Leigh’s own words, takes the form of an audience with the press at which the ailing star is prepared to speak candidly – so providing a pretext for a revealing canter through her life. Since her life was eventful, this makes for an entertaining 90 minutes.

The young Vivien, we learn, developed her lethal combination of determination and charm at a very tender age – by age six, she had worked out that a successful bit of acting would get her invitations to the best Christmas teas. No surprise then that this precocious tot would go on to, famously, set her cap at Olivier (though both she and he were married when she first spied him) and Scarlett – and get them both.

We hear of her triumphs, but also enjoyably, of the extraordinary backbiting, bitchiness, and paranoia that constitutes life in Hollywood. Spicy details make this play: the fact that Clark Gable’s people wouldn’t permit him to emphasize the word “damn”, so threatening the end of the film; that Olivier had to be given a part on Broadway to spirit him out of the way, lest their liaison get out to the press; that she developed a phrase – “fiddle-de-fuck” – for when she wanted to blow a take. And then there are the colorful leading men she landed. She quotes Brando, from the set of A Streetcar Named Desire, revealing his personal hygiene routine: “I never bathe: I just throw a gob of spit in the air and run under it.” A useful skill, no doubt, in times of drought.

But running through the piece are also the darker and the more serious strands of her life. There is her passionate relationship with Olivier: despite the fact that their marriage became a sham, she never really loved anyone else, according to Lafferty. And there is her struggle with ill-health, her miscarriages, her tuberculosis and the manic depression that made her increasingly impossible to be with. She could always tell, she says, when a manic phase was coming on because her hair would frize. In later years, her frizzing hair would send her scurrying for a dose of electric shock treatment – horrendous, but better than the alternative.

It is a touching piece then, if florid in places, and sustained delightfully by Marcy Lafferty. Lafferty, directed by John Edw. Blankenchip, does look like Leigh, turned out carefully in her chiffon blouse, her face powdered perfectly, her hair clipped back in an outdated 1940’s style no longer flattering to her drawn face. And with her breathy, rather arch delivery, she suggests at once how sparkly, charming and captivating her subject could be – and how petulant, self absorbed and destructive.