Independent Theatre. Goodwood Theatre. 27 April 2018
Born Yesterday is officially a classic American movie. Born on Boxing Day in 1950, it garnered a slew of Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. Garson Kanin, who before and after the film did almost everything imaginable in screen and theatrical entertainment, said he modeled the wholly disagreeable lead male role of Harry Brock on Harry Cohn who was a big shot exec at Columbia, the production company that later made the film. Cohn said he wasn't bothered by it, which is another sign of narcissism. The Broadway play by Kanin precedes the film by four years.
The story concerns junkyard millionaire Harry Brock's trip to Washington to work with his bought lobbyist, a US Senator, to unfetter his enterprises of entangling legislation. He brought along his main squeeze, a young former chorus line girl, but realises she needs the Pygmalion treatment. So he foolishly hires a young journalist - who is also staying at the Hotel Statler - to give her some education. The natural thing happens as well as some sense being literally belted into her by Brock. It becomes the floozie's personal growth story.
The parallels between Kanin's Brock and Donald Trump were not lost on director Rob Croser. It's very easy to imagine Brock as a younger Donald Trump in the New York real estate game exercising his misogyny, bullying, and power and mind games. Stuart Pearce provided the perfect stature and characterisation to channel the President into the script. A great oaf did he give us. Yet Brock is so easily bamboozled by his moll, Billie Dawn. I haven't seen the movie, but I dare say Madeleine Herd possibly matched Judy Holliday's Academy Award-winning performance in the original film version. Her vivacity and energy was such a welcome and necessary contrast to the old men around her and to Brock's bombast. Herd's silent acting in the game of gin scene was a joy to watch, a highlight even above her humourous and charming nuance of the text and visual dexterity. Bravo! She was glamourously enhanced by Sandra Davis's stylish costuming and Carmen Ng's hair dos. Another bravo!
David Roach made playing Harry Brock's sad, old, worn out, cynical, defeated lawyer look easy, but it was theatrically nothing to behold. Greg Janzow gave Harry's go-fer cousin an intermittently amusing ennui. Jonathan Johnston as the young reporter excellently foiled the other males with ironic sense and charm.
Director Rob Croser might have snapped up the pace to keep the comedy compelling, but he had his players in the right places for dramatic import. David Roach's and Rob Croser's sets are always expertly constructed and this one was functional on many levels, but I would have argued against the Christmas-colour trim at the production meeting. Professional graphic designer Nicholas Ely's program cover was great lateral thinking and perhaps the only physical evidence of the link between then and now.
The uncanny comparison of a 1946 model of Trump is fascinating, and the switch of narrative arc onto Billie Dawn takes us into a kind of morality tale. There is a compelling battle of wills, but it's the captivating performance of Ms Herd that is required viewing.
When: 27 Apr to 5 May
Where: Goodwood Theatre