It may be sexist but Ladies in Black appeals mainly to the female members of the species, or those in touch with their feminine side or, in fact, those men with a partner who insists they go as a couple…okay, so there’s something in it for everybody except the ‘boganest ‘ of blokes.
Based on a book by Madeline St John called The Women In Black, the story, which is set in Sydney in the ‘50s and ‘60s, has been adapted for the theatre by Tim Finn and Carolyn Burns. Without giving away too much of the plot, The ‘ladies in black’ are the shop assistants who work at Goodes – a fictional department store, loosely based on Buckley and Nunn, Grace Brothers, David Jones, Georges and Myers. While not specifically ‘Melbourne’, the production has been given a sprinkling of local flavour where possible, and is still culturally relevant to many seeing as a number of those in the audience would remember what a big deal it was to travel to the city and shop in the shiny, exciting sensory feast that was the equivalent of Goodes.
The plot revolves and evolves around Lisa (Sarah Morrison), a young ‘book-worm’ who has obtained her first holiday job in the cocktail dress department at Goodes. Lisa aspires to be a poet and attend university rather than remain always a sales lady. From her colleagues, Lisa learns about life, the importance of hanging on to your dreams, about love, disappointment, racism, sexism and compromise. We see that everyone has a story to tell, and the basic premise is that underneath it all, people are basically kind and well meaning even if they are inadvertently hurting others. We learn also that women are strong and can be influential when they are fighting for a cause close to their heart.
Tim Finn’s music fits the story perfectly, and though there seems to be almost too many songs, the lyrics help to tell the story and give it a comedic edge. The costumes are visually stunning and that aspect alone would lure in the lovers of retro couture.
This Melbourne production has some inspired casting. Fay (Ellen Simpson), Rudi (Bobby Fox), Myra (Kathryn McIntyre), Magda (Natalie Gamsu) and others can act, sing and dance convincingly and with grace. Lines are delivered with perfect timing and the whole package together makes for a delightful experience. See Ladies in Black and you can be sure of a feel good, uplifting time.