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Through the Mill review at London Theatre Workshop, London – ‘three barnstorming Garlands’

Scene from Through the Mill at London Theatre Workshop, London. Photo: Derren Bell Scene from Through the Mill at London Theatre Workshop, London. Photo: Derren Bell
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Ray Rackham’s new play Through the Mill focuses on three key periods in Judy Garland’s career. The early years as she is inducted into the MGM workhouse and her adolescence is artificially stalled. The middle years on the comeback trail, fighting drug addiction and falling for her manager Sid Luft. Then finally, the constant battle with TV executives at CBS while recording The Judy Garland Show.

Through The Mill is a classy affair, thoughtfully designed by Justin Williams, but the icing on the cake is the three Garlands, who between them capture that potent mix of fragility and determination that made her a star. Lucy Penrose’s tremulous vibrato conjures up vivid images of the child prodigy. Belinda Wollaston barnstorms into the Palace Theatre and into a tempestuous affair with Luft, and finally Helen Sheals. Older but no less vulnerable, Sheals is Dorothy in a brand new Oz, ruled by Nielsen reports and money men but with no Wizard to guide her home.

While there is little revelatory in Rackham’s play, its structure is a thing of beauty. In much the same way as the author’s musical Apartment 40C, which premiered last year, Through The Mill melds time and space to create a continuous narrative threaded with humour, passion and an economic mix of Garland’s greatest hits.

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Thoughtful, classy reimagining of the backstage biography genre, featuring three barnstorming Garlands