Drowning In Veronica Lake

Holden Street Theatres
9 March 2012

Veronica Lake was a silver screen blonde bombshell from the 1940s who thought she was much better screen actress than did the critics of the day.  Drowning in Veronica Lake is essentially a biography of her life told through her own eyes, and it is played by a solo actress.  It charts her rise from anonymity – with a pushy and manipulative mother at her side who sees Veronica as her meal ticket and entrée to a finer life – to Hollywood celebrity stardom and then into penniless obscurity after the big studios had used her up.

When the audience enters the theatre, Veronica Lake (played compellingly by Alex Ellis) is already on stage with her back to the audience.  She is dressed in an antique-white gown with a skirt that comprises dozens of square metres of fabric that covers most of the stage.  She looks as if she has been poured (‘by Paramount’) into it.  She seems as if she standing in the middle of, and is one with, a lake of white water.  It looks striking, and it is a powerful metaphor for the confines and restrictions she experiences in life, but it also means that the actress is almost completely unable to move, and this is a weakness of the play. 

Because the actress is so static there is a great deal of emphasis on lighting changes to indicate shifts in characterisation, time and space.  Ellis works very hard to inject interest into her voice, but the first half hour of the performance inextricably becomes tiresome, by no fault of her own.  There is only so much you can do when you are fixed virtually to one spot and the narrative is exclusively biographical.

However when the text begins to focus on Lake’s downward slide into her own alcohol-fuelled personal hell she claws at her skirt to reveal a bottle of booze and falls and stumbles to reach it. Here the play enters a new dimension, becomes much more interesting, and Ellis’s considerable skills become truly apparent.

Kym Clayton

When: 11 Mar
Where: Holden Street Theatres - The Studio