A captivating actress of Dresden beauty, Vivien Leigh
attained “theatre royal” status as Lady Olivier in a classical career just
beyond the reach of her natural abilities, and became a troubled Blanche
du Bois figure, both on stage and in real life.
But it was her fairytale casting as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind
that made her n international icon. And the most compelling moment in this
swift chronicle of her life is when producer David O Selznick first sets
eyes on his future star, lit by the still smouldering fires of Atlanta on
the Culver City back lot in 1938.
After that, despite Oscars and applause, warm
friendships and wild affairs, her life was a downhill struggle against
ill-health, childlessness, divorce and mental breakdown.
American actress Marcy Lafferty first tackled the
subject in three short films, from which she has now developed this
one-woman show, impersonating the by then frail star meeting the Press at
a London theatre in 1960 (although Leigh spent that year in New York and
Hair design by Elliot King, a widow’s peak framing the
high forehead and plucked brows above arresting eyes, help her create the
Leigh look. But given Lafferty’s bone structure, transatlantic undertones
and a tendency to rush headlong, no one could ever mistake the performer
for the real thing.
And there are some oddities in an otherwise carefully
researched script, including Betty Bacall joining Bogey at a George Cukor
brunch in 1938 and Guy Fawkes Night featured as an Indian festival.
The show makes a disconcerting 90 minutes for anyone
who saw Leigh perform in the flesh, and a sudden, unsignalled shriek of
terror during a session of electro convulsive therapy takes us back to the
dark ages of fifties medicine.
But despite one’s reservations, this is a remarkable
performance by a remarkable actress, offering a vivid portrait of a quick
silver personality in both triumph and despair.