Sunday, 19 October 2003

Beasty Girl - The Secret Life of Errol Flynn, Oct 19, 2003

Beasty Girl  - The Secret Life of Errol Flynn
by Scott Rankin  
St. Martin's Youth Arts Centre, Oct 19 to 26, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Errol Flynn made fifty-three movies in twenty-six years and was not only Australia's most famous movie star but the most recognisable face of his generation.

Beasty Girl is not a study of Flynn's life. It is a lateral look at how his irresponsible behaviour affected the lives of an unacknowledged illegitimate daughter and her mother.

Actor, Leah Purcell, and writer-director, Scott Rankin, last collaborated on Purcell's very successful solo show, Box the Pony. Purcell is a warm and engaging presence and Rankin makes these qualities part of the style of the show. She speaks directly to the audience as herself, as Flynn's Jamaican daughter Carly,  and as Carly's mother.

She also addresses us as a humanised version of the extinct Tasmanian Tiger,  or Thylacine. Flynn, a Tasmanian, is purported to have kept one as a pet. The focus of this metaphor is the parallel between the faded movie idol, the ignored daughter and the invisible, extinct animal.

Flynn himself is part of an extinct generation of pre-war screen heroes. As his lifestyle became more dissolute and his reputation less savoury, his fame faded and he drank himself to death at forty-nine.

Purcell shifts effortlessly between characters, her body and voice doing all the work for us. Although her performance is based in purely physical transformation, Rankin fills the piece with visual and aural representations of Flynn.

Video design (Kirsten Bradley) includes footage of Flynn's films and abstract forests and images of the Tiger are accompanied by an evocative sound design. Composed by Robert Iolini  and operated by Damian Mason.

Dan Witton  assists Purcell on stage with some simple shadow puppetry and other imagery.

The writing is intelligent, the performance compelling and the visual and sound are interesting. What seems to be missing is the emotional level of the story. The work keeps us at arm's length leaving us with a sense that we have missed something in the story of both Carly and her father the movie hero.

By Kate Herbert

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