HANDBAG CHOCK FULL OF ENTERTAINMENT
Written by Helen Moulder and Sue Rider
Directed by Sue Rider
at Circa Two, Wellington
From 22 Mar 2014 to 19 Apr 2014
[1hr 20mins (no interval)]
Reviewed by Laurie Atkinson, 24 Mar 2014
originally published in The Dominion Post
Mozart's The Magic Flute has been described as ‘the most fantastic mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous ever put on the stage'.
While Gloria's Handbag, which contains arias from the opera, may not be in quite that league it certainly mixes the ridiculous with magic tricks, the future, an unhappy family and the very real predicaments of an elderly woman living alone.
A great deal of Helen Moulder's engaging performance of Gloria Williamson, who announces she is 113 years old but later revises to 97, is as delicate, gentle and genteel as the coloured handkerchiefs she uses in her magic tricks. But underlying Gloria's occasional dottiness Helen Moulder lets us glimpse, when the slightly over-long and highly convoluted plot allows, a stoical, realistic woman approaching the end of her life.
But everything goes topsy-turvy almost from the start when in a moment of retail madness (Gloria has discovered internet shopping) she buys an inordinately expensive – and excessively vulgar - Italian handbag.
When the handbag is first opened, Gloria is confronted by the bag's genie, Belissima. She is its proud designer, an irrepressible, sprightly Papageno-like figure who takes over for a while, commenting on Gloria's family and teaching the audience some basic Italian.
The events swerve wildly from the present (2021) when Gloria's daughter-in-law is leading a political party in an election to the future (2071) where we, the audience, are holograms at a lecture being taught how to memorise everything.
Gloria's son is a slick businessman with financial problems and wants to get Gloria into a home and sell off all her assets, and her granddaughter, whom she talks to on a new-fangled Skype, has problems with the Malaysian police. Oh, and then there's Julian the handyman.
Throw into this farrago some audience participation, a Mozart duet in a solo show, some very funny sequences, and you have a highly enjoyable entertainment which seems to me to lose sight of its themes of materialism, heritage and “passing the parcel,” to use Alan Bennett's phrase from The History Boys.
Helen Moulder received a standing ovation from an enthused opening night audience.
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