It’s a strange time to watch Moonlight and Magnolias, a play about a big Hollywood producer and the 1930s film that Donald Trump recently suggested we “bring back”.
In Ron Hutchinson’s 2004 comedy, producer David O Selznick is desperate for a box office hit. Three weeks into the production of Gone With the Wind, he fires the director and hires Ben Hecht to rewrite the script from scratch. The trouble is Hecht hates the story and the new director Victor Fleming doesn’t “give a shit”.
Hutchinson puts these men in a room as they attempt to salvage the film. Through the windows of Tim Meacock’s luxurious set, the sky tells the time, as the men prowl and posture. This becomes wearisome fast. Arguments erupt out of nowhere and are sustained long after they’ve run out of steam. Why are these men so angry? It’s hard to care.
Kirsty Patrick Ward’s production focuses on the play’s potent political questions, but these tonal shifts push things in incongruous directions.
The performers sustain their bravado over the course of the production. Joe Alessi’s Selznick has creative control, but his main contribution is a fun, flouncing Scarlett O’Hara impression (and his cash). Dan Fredenburgh is engaging as the dishevelled Hecht, naively concerned with artistic integrity, and Oscar Pearce is equal parts pathetic and prescient as Fleming.
The play deploys a variety of gags, but some of these shots feel cheap. It easy to sympathise with Hayley Doherty’s understandably frazzled secretary Miss Poppenghul.
There’s much to be ridiculed about these men, the movie, and Hollywood, but Hutchinson’s farce doesn’t dig deep enough. It’s hard to hear what it’s trying to say.