AVA: The Secret Conversations ★★★ Riverside Studios | Jan 18 - Apr 16, 2022

Ava Gardner was one of the great stars of the 1950s. Producer, Louis B. Mayer, famously said "She can't talk, she can't act, she's terrific." What she had was sex appeal and star power. These attributes plus marriages to Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra, and a liaison with Howard Hughes fuelled the tabloid press' fascination. In 1988, living in London and partially paralysed by a stroke she asked Peter Evans to write her autobiography. This show is based on those conversations and explores the complicated relationship between the star and the person, the story and the life, the press and the celebrity. Elizabeth McGovern creates a character as different as possible from her memorable Lady Cora in Downton Abbey. Ava's drinking and drama, and her rags to riches story deeply contrast to the story of the American heiress dealing with the serenity and squabbles of life among the English gentry. Nevertheless, Elizabeth McGovern totally channels her new persona. Anatol Yusef plays Peter Evans, the journalist selected to write the memoirs, as well as the trio of husbands. He successfully manages not only to convey the complex motives of the pen-for-hire but also does very credible impersonations of the so familiar Rooney and Sinatra. In danger of stealing the show is the marvelous set and video design of 59 Productions. The integration of movie clips of the real principals and the amazing projections make for a completely mesmerising theatrical experience. This is an evening that will delight anyone who cares about the fabled time that was Hollywood's golden age or about that contemporary, pervasive, phenomenon of celebrity culture.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Marc Brenner.

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