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GBM Productions Limited and the Comedy Theatre present





Director: Pat Garrett


Set and Costume design: Christopher Woods


Orchestration: Conor Mitchell


Music: John Robinson


Lyrics: John Robinson and Roberto Trippini


Libretto: Roberto Trippini.




28 July - 8 Aug 09






A review by Marion Drew for EXTRA! EXTRA!


This was always going to be strange, a musical comedy about one of America’s greatest (not comic) writers? And strange it was. In this fictional story, Hemingway and his wife Mary are visited on their ranch in Ketchum, Idaho in the summer of 1961 by an old friend of Ernest's, Rex. He is a failed Hollywood producer and his intention is to persuade Mary and Hemingway himself to allow him to make a movie about the writer’s life. Rex tries to get Ernest's ‘sex and the city’ secretary Louella to help him in this enterprise, playing into her earnest wish to become his fifth wife. He tries to argue that a writer will not be remembered by his books, ‘who will be reading books 30 years from now?’, but by a biographical movie. I was struck by a sense of disbelief that any script writer would even imagine that this could possibly be a truth. Hemingway is not at all taken in by Rex's scheming and in no uncertain terms sends him on his way along with Louella. Then for no discernable reason, he points a double-barrelled shotgun at his head and dies. One is still left with the question ‘why?’ and nothing in this play helps in any way. I found the end excruciatingly simplified and superficial in its presentation of the end of a great man.

Far from telling a story about the last days of his life, or even exploring what led up to his violent death, not only did this production not make sense, it also lacked any depth or soul, and one is left feeling that the great man had in fact been a little ridiculed, certainly not celebrated. One got a confused sense of who Hemmingway actually was, and what motivated him both as a writer and as a man; because what we saw on stage was so at odds with what one has read. Here he was played as an aging and rather foolish, bordering on incompetent old man who needed things to be done for him, and much ordered about by his fourth wife Mary (Helen Dallimore). Not for a minute did one get the sense of a man tortured by ill physical and mental health on the brink of a violent death. There is far too much ‘telling’, and not enough dramatical ‘showing’.

The acting was good considering the material the cast had to work with, but there was a lot of standing around and earnest gesticulating without much choreography. Dallimore as Mary played an even performance throughout, and she was given the best comic lines, but even the acting could not carry the show. In terms of the ‘comedy’ aspect, it was hard to believe not only that some of the jokes had actually been put into the show, (they were so bad), but that Hemmingway himself would have appreciated such juvenile repartee, and there were times when the ethos felt distinctly misogynistic.

More than anything else, it was not clear why there needed to be music. To me it felt as if bits of the script had just been set to song, which did not add anything by way of meaning or even entertainment to the work. The score, if you ignored the words, was quite lovely at times, and the musical arrangements pleasant to listen to, although they did drown out the voices on more than one occasion. The set was an interesting one, and quite beautiful in a minimalist way, but I did not get the strong sense of where I was. If we hadn’t been told that we were on a ranch in Ketchum, Idaho in the summer I would never have guessed it. The constant revolving of the stage towards the end left me feeling a little dizzy, and it was not quite clear as to how that added to the production either. The one thing this production did achieve was to make me interested in going back to Hemmingway’s works and what has been written about him, if only to get the facts straight.

The long suffering Mary sings, ‘writers are best met through their books,’ - yes indeed, and the producers of this show should have taken this directly to heart.



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