Drowning in Veronica Lake

Hamilton Gardens, Chinoiserie Garden, Hamilton

22/02/2016 - 23/02/2016

The Garden Club, 13b Dixon Street, Wellington

22/02/2011 - 26/02/2011

TSB Showplace, New Plymouth

03/06/2012 - 03/06/2012

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

01/11/2011 - 12/11/2011

16th Avenue Theatre, 174 16th Ave, Tauranga

22/10/2011 - 23/10/2011

Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland

22/08/2012 - 01/09/2012

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

06/03/2011 - 08/03/2011

Dance Studio, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, Hamilton

22/06/2012 - 23/06/2012

Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin

25/03/2011 - 27/02/2011

NZ Fringe Festival 2011


Tauranga Arts Festival 2011

Auckland Fringe 2011

FUEL Festival 2012

Dunedin Fringe 2011

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2016

Production Details

From under-age Miss Florida to Hollywood icon. From glamorous to anonymous, adored to discarded. Veronica Lake – Dead but not lying down. 

Revisit the Golden Age of Hollywood via the sordid underbelly of the film industry in Flaxworks latest production, Drowning in Veronica Lake – a darkly comic tribute to the eponymous 1940’s screen siren.

Trapped in an other worldly green room somewhere between Paramount and Purgatory the fictional personality of Veronica Lake graces us with a highly theatrical account of her meteoric rise to fame and glamour and equally spectacular decline. Alex Ellis plays the faded star, who has been dead for 40 years but is still optimistic for a comeback. 

“You could put all the talent I had into your left eye and still not suffer from impaired vision” Veronica Lake. 

Veronica Lake was one of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars in the 1940s. At the peak of her brief career she campaigned tirelessly for the US war effort, took tea with Eleanor Roosevelt, piloted her own plane from coast to coast, was famously sued by her own mother and was bankrupted by the IRS before a rapid descent into obscurity, alcoholism and a premature and lonely death as an unknown 50 year old cocktail waitress.

Typecast early in her career as the ice cool blonde, the archetypal femme fatale, she was thrust into the limelight at an early age, as Hollywood’s newest sensation. Naïve and unprepared she left in her wake a polarised industry who either loved or loathed her. 

In Drowning in Veronica Lake the untangling of the truth about her career, her alcoholism, her fractured family and her five husbands becomes a battle for centre stage – between the romantic view of the world presented by her old movies and the mocking and cynical personality of Veronica Lake.

Writer, Phil Ormsby and director Simon Coleman re-interpret the multiple and conflicting versions of Veronica Lake’s life story on a set designed to emphasize the odd juxtaposition of a live performer playing a movie star as she fights to reclaim her status as screen siren.

Calling herself ‘a product of Hollywood’, Veronica Lake knew her experience was typical of many actors used by studios to churn out product and then discarded but she resolutely refused to give up. She understands that in the end what we really want from our celebrities is entertainment, and in Drowning in Veronica Lake she obliges us with a touching, funny and grandly self-delusional tale that reverberates beyond her brief career and quite literally beyond the grave.

Now in glorious living colour – Veronica Lake – created, designed, manufactured by Hollywood. 

Drowning in Veronica Lake plays at The Garden Club, Dixon Street, Wellington, as part of Wellington Fringe 2011, from Tuesday 22 – Saturday 26 February at 8pm. Tickets are $16 and $13 concession and available from BATS Theatre www.bats.co.nz  or 04 8024175. 

Drowning in Veronica Lake plays at The Basement Theatre, Lower Grey’s Ave, Auckland, as part of Auckland Fringe 2011, on Sunday 6 and Monday 7 March at 5:30pm and Tuesday 8 March 7pm. Tickets are $16 and $13 concession and available from i-TICKET www.iticket.co.nz  

Drowning in Veronica Lake plays at The Globe Theatre, Dunedin, as part of Dunedin Fringe 2011, on Friday 25 and Saturday 26 at 7pm and Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 2011 at 2pm. Tickets are $16 and $13 concession and available from TicketDirect ph. 03 477-8597 (Booking fees may apply).  

Drowning in Veronica Lake plays at 16th Avenue Theatre, 174 16th Avenue, Tauranga as part of the Taurang Arts Festival 2011, on 22 and 23 October 2011 at 7pm. 


Drowning in Veronica Lake
2pm, TSB Showplace
1hr (no interval)
premium $39, A reserve $29.

A long-weekend of tasteful cabaret, comedy and burlesque shows to tickle your fancy! Seven of Australia’s and New Zealand’s best comedy and cabaret shows – in the TSB Showplace, Devon St, New Plymouth, Taranaki. 

FUEL FESTIVAL 2012, Hamilton 
Dance Studio, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts 
Fri 22 & Sat 23 June: 1pm, 7.30pm 

Flaxworks in association with Q theatre presents
Drowning in Veronica Lake

Wednesday 22 August – Saturday 1 September 2012, at Q theatre.

Saturday 25 August, double feature special event – Drowning in Veronica Lake followed by the 1941 classic film Sullivan’s Travels.

Drowning in Veronica Lake plays at Q theatre, 305 Queen St, Auckland, from Wednesday 22 August – Saturday 1 September at 8.00pm. There is one matinee performance on Friday 24 at 1pm and an early show on Sunday 26 at 5pm, no show Monday 27.

Tickets are $35 Adults, $25 concession and are available from Q theatre box office or at www.qtheatre.co.nz or 09 309 9771.

The specially priced tickets for the Saturday night double bill include Drowning in Veronica Lake at the Loft, followed by Sullivan’s Travels and just to complete the mood we’ll throw in a glass of wine and a box of Jaffa’s.

Tickets are $50 Adults, $40 concession and are available from Q theatre box office or at www.qtheatre.co.nz or 09 309 9771.  


Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2016  
Chinoiserie Garden  
Mon 22 & Tue 23 Feb 2016 
Tickets: $39 


– See more at: http://www.hgaf.co.nz/events/theatre/drowning-in-veronica-lake#sthash.vPVRhJMS.dpuf 

Veronica Lake:  Alex Ellis 

Theatre , Solo ,


This is what magnificent theatre looks like

Review by Jan-Maree Franicevic 23rd Feb 2016

Tonight rain is threatening as my faithful festival review buddy Frances and I stand in the queue for this evening’s show, listed in the Special Performance section of the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival programme.

I cannot fathom why we are still waiting to be admitted into the venue (The Chinoiserie Garden) with less than five minutes to go before the stated start time of 8.30. Soon this is of no consequence at all, as magic invades my every sense. 

The Chinoiserie Garden has always been one of my favourite spaces in Hamilton Gardens and tonight, with immaculate lighting (designed by Nik Janiurek) and a stunning soundscape – the entire show’s music arranged and sung by Colleen Davis – it is a charm!

The jewel of it all is the silhouette of our star; Veronica Lake (Alex Ellis) clad in a dress designed by the costume world’s heavy hitter Elizabeth Whiting. I am impressed: this costume is the entire set and anchors our star to the spot throughout the show, not that this means we are starved of levels and action, there is plenty of this. I am spellbound by its inventive use.

The show begins and I am frankly too busy lost in the wonderfully tragic world of Veronica Lake to entertain any concern over the weather nor the (at times bomb-diving) mosquitoes… For sixty minutes the only thing in the world that matters is this fine actress and her frankly mind blowing portrayal of a tinsel town heroine on the sad, lonely, ugly road to obscurity. 

The story is not unique (something I read in the programme notes by director Simon Coleman who has done a superb job here), many a star has fallen to the same life issues throughout Hollywood history: the drinking and drugs, the men and the abuse, the self-medication, flagellation, depression, narcissism, lies; the desperate loneliness of life in the public eye. It may not be unique but it is certainly well done. Hats off to Phil Ormsby, who has written a stunning monologue here. 

The highest praise must be saved for Ellis, who is flawless in every way, never missing a beat nor a lighting state change (no mean feat, she must be seen to be believed!).  At once she is gentle and then powerful, angry and hard, then so soft and vulnerable – so much so that I want to wrap her up in her dress/set-dressing and shelter her from herself!

She flick-flacks between characters seamlessly, easily. She draws us in with her magnetism and mastery of this tricky script and delicate subject matter. She is grace personified and so, so sad. A drunken mess, with no money, no mates and an ever-decreasing grip on her own mind.

All she ever wanted was to be liked… which could be said for us all… which is another lovely thing about this script: it is tight as a drum but every once in a while there is breathing room created by Ellis’ exceptional delivery which gives life and pause for my own reflections. 

The humanity she breathes into Lake makes all the difference. And when finally the wild ride is over there are tears in my eyes (truly great shows always make me moist of eye), and I clap so hard I fear my palms will bleed. And I really wish the show wasn’t over, because it is just so good.

Drowning in Veronica Lake is only on for one more night at the festival and I will be telling everyone I know to get there by hook or crook. I certainly hope they have to put more seats out for the hordes. Every keen Hamilton theatregoer needs to see this show. We are lucky to have such genuine genius in our town, don’t let the opportunity pass you by. 

This is what magnificent theatre looks like. Bravo!


Make a comment

The Fame Monster

Review by James Wenley 30th Aug 2012

There’s commentary within this show about the difference between celebrity and stardom. Celebrity is flash in the pan stuff. Stardom is enduring. You counted. People remember. Movie femme fatale Veronica Lake has the ingredients for stardom – a troubled back-story, ambition, a face that lights up the screens. She was very much a screen celebrity of the 1940s. But a star? She died, age 50, her career long behind her, in near obscurity. That’s a long way to fall. 

Veronica Lake, real name Constance Frances Marie Ockelman, was most famous in her heyday for her studio constructed trademark ‘peek-a-boo’ hairstyle covering her right eye. She appeared in films like Sullivan’s Travels and The Black Dahlia. Now, she’s a screen siren curio, known mainly to the biggest movie buffs. I’ve never seen any of her films. I hadn’t heard of her until this play, Drowning in Veronica Lake, reached by consciousness. [More


Make a comment

Talent oozes through tangled web

Review by Johnny Givins 23rd Aug 2012

Drowning in Veronica Lake returns in triumph to the Auckland stage.  

Performing in a luminous lake of white fabric, Alex Ellis is centre stage trapped in this glorious ‘dress’ tracing the luscious, scandalous, tragic and moving life of the 40s screen siren Veronica Lake.  The blonde bombshell with the lock of hair covering her right eye! 

This stylish production was first seen in the Fringe Festivals in 2011.  It was a hit.  It has now gained an extra production polish and an original atmospheric and clever sound landscape by Colleen Davis and Tom Rodwell.

Directed by Simon Coleman, Ellis weaves a story-telling web based on Veronica Lake’s story.  She plays the multiple layers of the public goddess, the disturbed inner child, the drunken self destructive abused wife and the eternal screen icon.  But the acting craft on display goes far further. She also plays a multitude of other characters including her despised Mother.  In a tour de force this Brooklyn pushy theatre mum becomes real within the white lake of fabric. The dress is suddenly shabby, tired and dishevelled.  It’s funny and tragic and spitting with venom. 

The script is tight taught and terrific!  It is sexy and punchy with great key lines which Ellis hits like a pro.  The blaze of fame and the appalling fade to the drunken poverty is captured with skilled vocal dynamics. Subtle lighting designed by Nik Janiurek is sophisticated and takes us effortlessly thorough the tangled web Veronica Lake’s life became.

However this production is more than homage to a faded idol.  It reflects on the excessive power of the marketing of celebrity so common in our media today.  It is an early example of the star who lives their own publicity but is unable to live with the demons and gifts that gave them their talent in the first place – ref: Amy Whitehouse, Whitney Houston, et al. 

It is a great hour in the theatre which oozes talent.  Veronica Lake may have had little confidence in her ability to act but Alex Ellis is full of her talent and is bringing a great performance to Q loft this week.

On Saturday night there is a double bill.  Drowning in Veronica Lake will be followed by a special screening of Veronica Lake’s Sullivan’s Travels (1941) “now in glorious living colour…” See the Hollywood creation. 


Make a comment

Sham glam triumph

Review by Gail Pittaway 24th Jun 2012

She was a blonde bombshell, a model, an actress, an aviatrix and even sang soft sleepy numbers in her films, although the first confession the screen idol makes in this fine piece of solo acting, is that she was never allowed to do her own singing.

Perfectly titled, paced and pitched to reflect the rise and fall of a real Hollywood icon, the performance by Alex Ellis as Veronica Lake is simply stunning – a triumph of voice and nuance. Especially when you consider she’s drowning in booze and physically imprisoned by the glamorous gown that locks her into position for the duration of the play. 

That first anecdote also leads into many more about fakery, the sham of the glam world that Constance Ockleman as she was christened becomes immersed in as she rises ever higher only to fall. There’s a recurring gag in the play about fame, where Veronica drops a name, then repeats it in disbelief as if amazed we have never heard of her famous contacts. While it builds up a comical effect it’s also a reminder that most of us hadn’t heard of her either before we went to this show. 

Written by Ellis’ partner in Flaxworks Theatre Company, Phil Ormsby, the script gives Ellis many opportunities to show her vocal range in Veronica’s sultry voice and those of many other people trailing in her wake or bobbing about in the boozy sea with her.  That pale dress is a superb piece of design and staging concept combined, with its plunging back and front and swirling skirts that reach out to the edges of the stage yet also serve to hide secret bottles of vodka, or as wrap-around in moments of remembered misery. 

Directed by Simon Coleman, its many shifts in mood and person are superbly timed technically with lighting changes and sound shifts to mark the milestones of this tawdry tragedy. However it is also very funny, both in the saucy one-liners expected of such a blonde-bobbed broad (“Marlon Brando – I was going up as he was going down”), but also in the parade of characters she reveals, despite it being a solo performance.

We meet her whining Brooklyn-based mother who sued her, two of her husbands, and hear far too little of her children. The deepest tragedy is that Veronica just loves the booze and that’s why she’s drowning. 

By the time this review goes to print the FUEL festival season for this extraordinary show will be over in Hamilton but watch out for it, they are a touring company whose work I have admired for several years and with luck they’ll raise Veronica up from the lake again. And the hair will be immaculate. 


Make a comment

Lost in a lake of self pity

Review by Ngaire Riley 05th Jun 2012

Veronica Lake was a real person. A Hollywood siren who died in 1973. I don’t know this as I take my seat. 

There she stands – the golden tresses, the hand on the hip, the bare back almost to the waist, and the luscious long dress beautifully lit with a golden glow.  It isn’t until she wallows on the floor much later, that I realise she is surrounded by a lake of dress. I am two rows back from some cabaret tables and cannot see why she does not move from the central spot she inhabits.

[Warning: the next two pars include quotes which may be seen as spoilers.]

To begin with she is like Winnie in Beckett’s Happy Days. She never mentions why she doesn’t, won’t or can’t move.  She turns and engages with us and her chat is open and dryly witty: “You could take all the talent I had and shove it in someone’s eye and they’d still not suffer from impaired vision”; “I had them just where they wanted me”; “Don’t give her a script until the day of filming. Keep her fresh. I don’t want her thinking.” We warm to her. Here is a woman who can laugh at herself.

A cut to blue lighting, closed body language and flatter vowels and Connie’s mother comes to life. It’s a crisp contrast of perspective and attitude. She is an interesting character and we feel the driving, cutting, grasping influence she is on Connie: “You fooled around and you were stuck with it.”  Then back to the Veronica confidently following her passions: “I took to motherhood like a duck to vodka”.

The script then slowly slides, like Veronica, into wallowing self pity. Somehow the almost linear telling of her life from stardom to alcoholism and poverty loses me. I sit there disengaged, watching this woman disintegrate.

Then Veronica retrieves a bottle from the enveloping folds of the enormous base of the dress. I realise that she is held or trapped or supported by this exciting, excruciating costume and I explore what she could have done with or to it: hauled it over one shoulder? Slipped out of it? Pulled a chord which lifted the back of the dress like a peacock fan? Veronica has lost me, but the dress, the dress seems to hold the possibilities for exploring the personal battles in the later part of her life.

I went to Drowning in Veronica Lake because I’m intrigued with how theatre explores humanity and I like seeing how people cope, or don’t cope, revealed through the conventions of live theatre. I’m interested in monologues as they are damned difficult to do. This one partially succeeded.  


Make a comment

Enthralling tale of the rise and fall of a screen siren

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 05th Nov 2011

The tempestuous lives of female film stars have been the subject of many books, films, and documentaries.  To therefore create a play about a Hollywood diva that is fresh and interesting is a challenge yet Phil Ormsby has done just that with his play Drowning In Veronica Lake currently playing at Circa 2. 

Beginning life earlier this year as part of the Wellington Fringe Festival, it has subsequently toured NZ during which time the production has been reworked.  Director Simon Coleman has developed more animation through the solo performance of Alex Ellis in her role as 1940’s film star Veronica Lake and Nik Janiurek’s innovative and creative lighting is even more so in the intimacy of the Circa 2 theatre. 

The essence of the play however remains the same, the rise and fall of one of Hollywood’s most notable pre-war siren’s, Veronica Lake and how with her signature look – a wisp of blonde hair over her right eye, and a string of men, most notably Alan Ladd, she quickly rose to fame then just as quickly faded, mainly caused by alcohol and an unpredictable personality. 

At some point she admits she has no talent and that it is all just an illusion, and from Alex Ellis’s enthralling performance this is very evident. 

Somewhat taller than the diminutive Lake, Ellis nevertheless has the hair and looks to convey the sultry image so associated with the famous film star.  But it is not just the look that Ellis gets right but the emotional turmoil associated with one minute living the high life then dealing with being in the doldrums. 

This is no chronological biography following a year by year account of her life but rather a fascinating glimpse into moments of her life that writer Ormsby has cleverly constructed into a structure that moves effortlessly from scene to scene. 

In one, Ellis is Lake at her best, or worst, the next as her dominating mother regaling Lake about one thing after another.

And all this is done for an hour with Ellis never moving from centre stage, except occasionally to fall and get back up in the same spot. And so it is to the credit of Ellis’s ability, and confidence, that she is able to engaging the audience so telling from the one spot for such an extended period of time

The effectiveness of this is aided considerably by a body hugging and revealing white dress designed by Sara Taylor that then flow’s out over the whole stage.  Yet the simplicity of the set belies the complexity of the character and together they combine, with Ellis’s outstanding performance, to make this a wholly satisfying production.  


Make a comment

Intriguing and darkly comic

Review by Helen Sims 03rd Nov 2011

Circa is hosting the return season of Flaxworks Theatre’s solo work, Drowning in Veronica Lake, which premiered in this year’s Fringe Festival.  It’s a fascinating portrait of a woman whose image is famous, but who has otherwise been forgotten.  It’s also a cautionary reminder that the further you climb, the farther you have to fall.  Trapped “somewhere between Paramount and Purgatory”, Lake reflects on her life and the struggle to maintain an identity separate to the one created for her by Hollywood. 

The audience walks past a woman standing in a spotlight with her back turned.  Long blonde hair cascades down her back.  She’s squeezed into a long white dress which fans out in swathes of material.  She turns around seductively, the image of the femme fatale, and begins her rise and fall tale of how simple Constance (“Connie”) Ockelman from Brooklyn became local beauty Connie Keane, then film star Veronica Lake, then a broke alcoholic. 

Throughout Phil Ormsby’s script there is a sense of Lake as a conflicted soul, wanting the adulation of crowds and immortality of true stardom, as well as to do things on her own terms.  Alex Ellis plays Lake’s spunk to the hilt, giving a feisty performance tinged with bitterness.  She also shifts characters several times to play Lake’s husbands and pushy mother.  As Lake, Ellis employs a lot of tension and constraint in her movements and voice, which I assume is based on Lake’s performance style.

I enjoyed the clever simplicity of the staging, which revolves around the costume.  The sexy gown that Ellis is trapped in is symbolic and flexible to the needs of the show.  Lake is literally and figuratively trapped in the style that has been created for her.  The design (by Sara Taylor and Elizabeth Whiting) is a striking visual image and is the most memorable thing about the play – much like Lake’s image, which overtook the other features of her life. 

The lighting and sound design both help Ellis – who has the difficult task of performing the entire show stuck in one spot – vary the place and mood of each scene.

The script conveys a lot of biographical information through past tense monologue, although it manages not to feel overly expositional.  Ormsby cleverly brings us close to Lake through the inclusion of sympathetic details about her pushy mother and abusive husbands, whilst also revealing cracks in Lake’s credibility.  It raises the question of how much can we ever ‘know’ about a celebrity, and moreover, despite our obsession with them – how much do we actually want to know?  There’s an inherent ambiguity as to who the ‘real’ Veronica Lake is, and less chance that her audience will find out as she descends into drunken histrionics.

At times towards the end of the play I struggled to have much sympathy for Lake’s tale and found myself wishing director Simon Coleman had gone further in showing the desperation and breakdown of the character.  Drowning in Veronica Lake is nevertheless intriguing and at times darkly comic.  It’s great to see a Fringe Festival show an opportunity to be re-mounted in a professional theatre space. 


Make a comment

A moving tour-de-force

Review by Deb Meldrum 27th Oct 2011

Flaxworks latest production, Drowning in Veronica Lake, is about the 1940s screen siren, Veronica Lake, a blonde bombshell, the star whose trademark was the fall of hair which obscured one eye.  She was asked to stop wearing her hair in that style as the women working in factories during the war were refusing to wear hairnets; so she was a big star who was admired and copied by millions of women and lusted after by many men.  

This show is about her and the perils of celebrity as Veronica goes from being ‘the hottest discovery in Hollywood’ to decline into obscurity and death at the age of 52.  In Drowning in Veronica Lake her character is shown 40 years later, “trapped somewhere between Paramount and Purgatory” as the programme notes so succinctly put it.

Alex Ellis gives a virtuoso performance as Veronica Lake and a range of other characters, especially her manipulative mother who pushes her through an unpleasant, loveless childhood.  Alex’s performance is even more incredible when you realise she is unable to move from her position, centre stage.  Her dress (designed by Elizabeth Whiting) is the set and the slinky tight fitting gown slithers over her body to the floor and then fans out across the stage; it is a brilliant image and shows the star a prisoner of the Hollywood celebrity machine; she can fall, crouch, writhe, but she cannot walk away. 

It is great to see Flaxworks come of age with this production.  Alex has always given accomplished performances in their other plays but the script has often let them down.  Phil Ormsby has written a thought-provoking, entertaining play with some good comic one liners and there is a good leavening of irony in the depiction of the star. 

Towards the end of the play I felt it got a little caught up in trying to show the sorrow and the heartache of Veronica Lake as she looks back at her life and converses with the two sides of her character.  We don’t need this as we can figure it out for ourselves although it is a ‘tour de force’ for Alex who does a great job of the tears, bitterness and grief.  Thank goodness it finishes with her back into her ironic and flippant side as she dismisses us to get on with our lives.

This was on at the 16th Avenue Theatre for two nights during the Tauranga Arts Festival and the  audience members I spoke to were moved by the play and blown away by Alex’s performance.

This show is very well directed by Simon Coleman and the lighting by Nik Janiurek does an excellent job of changing the moods and helping us to envisage the different settings that Alex conjures up with her acting and Phil’s words. 

Congratulations to Alex Ellis and Phil Ormsby, two locals who have made a commitment to creating and performing in their own shows and have kept on improving. I can hardly wait to see what they are going to present us with next.   


Make a comment

Strength in uncertainty

Review by Sharon Matthews 26th Mar 2011

The play opens with a striking image. A woman with long blonde hair stands centre-stage in a figure-hugging white gown that spreads out into an enormous pool of fabric at her feet. Caught in the spotlight of our gaze, she poses seductively, but cannot escape the quicksand of fabric that captures her to the knees.

Both arresting and simple, this image embodies the tropes implicit in the title: Drowning in Veronica Lake. This production is a portrayal of a woman, and a ‘film star’, drowning under the weight of expectations, drowning in alcohol, in bad choices. Trapped under the weight of an iconic image and a peek-a-boo hairstyle; drowning, battered by a thousand worthless abusive men. 

On the surface, this production initially seems a straight bio-monologue. For those members of the audience not familiar with the Golden Age of Hollywood, actress Alex Ellis recaps Lake’s history. 

Playwright Phil Ormsby’s script passes quickly through the high points of her career, from her breakout role as a torch singing vamp in I Wanted Wings (1941), to the low points. Her success didn’t last; she had a string of broken marriages, was famously sued by her own mother and was bankrupted by the IRS, before descending into mental illness, alcoholism, obscurity, and a premature and lonely death.

This story, the rise and hubric fall of a self-destructive star, is the stuff of endless bio-pics, and the staple fodder of endless shrieking celebrity magazines. Leading me to wonder, do we need to see another version of this well-worn tale?

However, Ellis and director Simon Coleman work hard to bring out shadows and complexities. Was Lake the architect of her own downfall, or a victim? Did ‘Veronica Lake’, as manufactured by Hollywood, destroy the ‘real’  Veronica by reducing the living, breathing woman to a sex symbol with an iconic hairstyle? Was Lake a precocious sex moppet, fully aware and manipulative, damaged by (suggested) sexual abuse, or overwhelmed by the voyeuristic movie maelstrom? In Lake’s own words: “Hollywood gives a young girl the aura of one giant, self-contained orgy farm, its inhabitants dedicated to crawling into every pair of pants they can find.”

Or was the ‘real’ Veronica never allowed to develop in the first place? Ellis relays conversations between Lake and her internalised mother which betray a complicated parental relationship. Lake had a troubled childhood and was, according to her mother, diagnosed as schizophrenic, a reading which is reinforced by the onstage dialogue between Lake’s warring dualities, the Connie Ockelman she was born as and the ‘film star’ persona.

This production never fully answers these questions, and is the stronger for this lack, leaving us with uncertainty and narrative threads not fully articulated, ghosts of absent husbands and discarded children. 

Nor is this portrayal an overly sympathetic one. This is a smart mouthed blonde who savagely puts herself down before the audience can, commenting, “You could put all the talent I had into your left eye and still not suffer from impaired vision,” while scrabbling for a vodka bottle hidden under her dress. At one point Lake’s self-pitying drunken histrionics are so extended that it becomes wearisome and difficult to watch.

Ellis and Coleman are aided by an excellent technical team: Nik Janiurek’s lighting design and Sara Taylor’s costume creation are both outstanding. However, Jamie Linehan’s evocative soundscape is an integral part of the success of this production. Linehan’s complex soundscape combines the deliberately discordant with a dramatic big band sound, evoking both the era and Lake’s interior confusion.

Ultimately, we are left to make up our own minds, and it is refreshing to watch a production that trusts the audience to do so. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.   


Make a comment

Uber-Hollywood tragi-queen in iconic frock

Review by Janet McAllister 07th Mar 2011

Boldly and cleverly, this Flaxworks solo show is built upon one solitary, striking symbol of celebrity. A glamorous blonde woman wears a straight-drop, figure-hugging white gown that spreads out into an enormous pool of fabric at her feet. She can sway and pose and writhe, but she cannot move below her knees; the garment twists up around her, creating both pedestal and prison.

This could be anyone ever caught in the spotlight, particularly those too young to know who they were beforehand – Britney Spears, Michael Jackson et al. But the beautiful gown is of 1940s cut – shoulder pads, plunging v-neck, flat diamond waist – and the lady marooned in the lake of white is movie star Veronica Lake (Alex Ellis), one eye hidden by her famous "peekaboo bangs". [More]

This review kindly supported by The James Wallace Arts Trust http://www.wallaceartstrust.org.nz/

For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


Make a comment

A stunning performance

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 24th Feb 2011

Known for her sultry looks, honey blonde ‘peekaboo’ hairstyle and her association with Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake is the subject of a fascinating new play Drowning In Lake Veronica by Phil Ormsby, in this year’s Fringe Festival.

Married four times, an alcoholic – she died of hepatitis and acute renal failure aged 50, sued by her mother, made bankrupt by the Inland Revenue, Veronica Lake also had her pilots licence and flew solo from Los Angeles and New York. 

All this and more is brought out in a stunning performance by Alex Ellis as Lake. Looking very much the part, Ellis remains centre stage for the whole performance in a body hugging white dress that wraps around her legs and flows out across the whole stage. 

It is no mean feat for one person to hold an audience’s attention for an hour but to do so from the same spot is to the credit of not only Ellis’s performance but writer Phil Ormsby’s lively intelligent script, Simon Coleman’s creative directing and Nik Janiurek’s innovative lighting. 

In small scenes, each differently lit to convey the changing moods of Lakes life, Ellis not only relates Lakes life from her own perspective but uses other characters, a major one being her dominating mother, to interact against. 

This is not a year by year life story but highlights of the crucial moments of Lakes life and the emotion and trauma under pinning these monuments. A fascinating story excellently told and well worth seeing. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


Make a comment

Playful, provocative and poignant

Review by John Smythe 23rd Feb 2011

She’s been poured into her frock before the show begins and remains imprisoned in it: a figure-hugging sheath with a huge fanning out circular hem; a swirl that could be pushing her up or dragging her down. Thus she stands – and falls – as an icon of Hollywood stardom.

This is a bravura performance from Alix Ellis; playful, provocative and poignant. As with Beckett’s Happy Days, the physical constraint becomes a ‘less-is-more’ plus, focussing us on the trap that Veronica Lake’s stardom has become. And as with Motherlock (reviewed yesterday), it’s a past-tense monologue, yet this time it works.

Why? Because from her ‘after-life’ position somewhere between Paramount and Purgatory, Veronica has her life in perspective. Not that she spoon-feeds us with pre-digested post-life self-awareness and judgements. She tells it like it was with wit and perception, interleaving her own point of view with that of her mother (who famously sued her) and to a lesser extent her various husbands.

Plus she splits herself between the Connie Ockelman she was born as and the ‘immortal’ Veronica Lake persona which has largely been consigned to obscurity. And she often inhabits the recalled moments, especially as her mother and in conflict with her, which is much more dramatic than mere reportage.

The story – of exploitation and abuse, often self-inflicted, in pursuit of an impossible dream – belongs to a thousand stars and offers nothing countless bio-pics have not already explored, which does lead me to wonder why so much time, energy and talent has been expended on this particular topic. But given so many young people say their main goal in life is to be famous, regular reminders of where celebrity and stardom can lead must always remain relevant.

Playwright Phil Ormsby has crafted the monologue through peaks and troughs, distilling the particular story so that it resonates well beyond itself, offering insights into beliefs and value systems that have both changed and remained the same.

Director Simon Coleman has worked with Ellis to compel our attention, play with our emotions and get us thinking – abetted by Nik Janiurek’s excellent lighting and Jamie Linehan’s evocative soundscape. And Sara Taylor created the frock: the whirlpool that sucks her in .
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council