Ladies in Black (Genesian Theatre Company) – theatre review

It was a great rite of passage that many of us born before 1965 went through and remember fondly. The annual six-week school holiday casual job at a city department store. It was often our first foray into the world of retail and, at 16 or 17 years of age, it gave us a glimpse of adult life and spending money like we never had before.

Ladies in Black is a superb, nostalgic trip down memory lane with a distinctive Australiana flavour. Set in the late 1950s, it centres around the ladies’ fashion department of the mythical Goode’s Department Store.

The story focuses on Lesley Miles (Rosanna Hurley), a bright, attractive girl from Enfield. She has just completed her Leaving Certificate and is looking forward to her casual job at Goode’s. Miles loves reading Tolstoy and hopes to study literature at Sydney University, but her stern father (Robert Green) wants her to undertake a typing, stenography and bookkeeping course.

Over the busy weeks leading up to Christmas, Lesley (alias “Lisa” to her work colleagues) gets acquainted with her fellow “Ladies in Black”. Fay is keen to find love with the continental Rudi. Patty seduces husband Frank with a sexy little black number from Goode’s lingerie department. Magda is an irrepressible Hungarian migrant, whose sophistication, class and Mosman address inspire Lesley to yearn for all the big things the world has to offer.

While there are some cringeworthy moments as the male characters are used to demonstrate the misogynistic world of the 1950s, it is all done with good humour.

Photo by Vicki Skarratt

Based on the novel The Women in Black by Madeleine St John,adapted for stage as Ladies in Black by Carolyn Burns, the dialogue is snappy and witty. The plot provides a wonderful snapshot of multicultural Australia in the post-war years.

Crucial to the enjoyment of the show are the fabulous lyrics and music of Tim Finn. There is a multitude of popular tunes, which allow many cast members to demonstrate their fine singing talents. They include Rosanna Hurley, Sonia Allan, Elizabeth Macgregor, Liberty Thirsk, Kirsty Redmond, Doug Rumble and Greg Thornton. The songs aren’t parochial and stand solidly against other recent foreign musicals.

For those who love shopping, Ladies in Black presents a smorgasbord of pretty, bright and tailored fashion. Credit to costume designer Susan Carveth. Director Debbie Smith has done an outstanding job bringing together so tightly the 13 cast members and crew. With the use of background slides, lighting and a colourful set, the story is well told via script, song and choreography. Musical director Omid Moheb Zedeh, too, is to be congratulated.

There is something for everyone in this production of Ladies in Black. It’s a cheerful and uplifting saga. It is wonderful to see a first-class, home grown Australian musical with a captivating score.

Two and a half hours, including interval, the musical is playing at Genesian Theatre until 7th December, 2019.

Paul Kiely

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