Thursday 3 August 2017

The Exotic Lives Of Lola Montez! - Theatre Review

What: The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez!
When 27 - 30 July 2017
Where: Her Majesty's Theatre
Written by: Jackie Smith
Directed by: Moira Finucane
Performed by: Holly Durant and Caroline Lee

Caroline Lee
The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez! is the newest project by Finucane & Smith and is set to take the world by storm. Tracing the too amazing to be true life of notorious courtesan and performer Lola Montez (played by Caroline Lee), born Marie Gilbert, the audience travels from County Cork throughout the exotic realms of Europe, to the USA and all the way to our very own Ballarat - returning to the place Montez hit the news by hitting the Editor of The Ballarat Times for giving her a bad review! (Note taken...) The show is enjoying it's world premier at Her Majesty's Ballarat this weekend.

Written by multi-award winning playwright, Jackie Smith, The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez! is a monologue. A little too wordy in the first half of the show, the story of this remarkable woman is very important and continues the work of Finucane & Smith in exploring and demanding personal freedom and self-determination for everyone.

There are many, many important quotes to take away from this passionate tale. For me the ones which resonated included Montez demanding the right to tell her story her way, and asking the quintessential question why do we have to look at the world through mens' eyes? Of course, this is just two of many, many such moments.

During her sojourn in Australia (1855) Montez become notorious for her provocative 'spider' dance. A dance which revolved around the idea of spiders crawling up her legs, it was considered lewd and provocative - as was Montez herself with her life long history of scandalous love affairs. In a red and black corsetted gown evocative of the cannibalistic black widow spider, Lee is a constant reminder of the men Montez has been involved with across her life (and across Europe). The likes of Alexandre Dumas and Franz Liszt gave way to King Ludwig of Bavaria. Not bad for a simple Irish lass!

Lola Montez is played by Caroline Lee who is apparently a true descendent of the original and this brings a special gravitas to the story and Lee brings all of her skill and experience to this epic tale of a woman who dared to be herself and do what she had to do to survive in a time when this was one of the greatest crimes a woman could commit. Her journey is special though, because she did it without apology and she did it with style and influence. As is true of so many stories of great women though, her life ends in penury, disease and abandonment despite a life well lived indeed.

The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez is directed by Moira Finucane, herself our very own Australian doyenne and champion of personal freedom and her influence and vision for the production is unequivocal. Everything from performance style, visual aesthetics, and subtextual tangents is unmistakably Finucane. I even thought Lee was at one point channeling Finucane in performance much like Alexandre Dujarier was channeled for a final passionate encounter at a seance. (This was a genius way for Smith to bring in 'the love that dare not speak its name' as another great act of freedom for women).

Lee herself is not really a dancer and perhaps the one flaw in the show is the gravitas she brings as a first class actress plays against the lightness found in the body of a dancer. Finucane shows creative brilliance in casting the thrilling Holly Durant ostensibly as a Parisienne dance siren. Durant's true purpose is as the avatar for the true spirit of Lola Montez on stage with Lee. Flitting on and off Durant is born, is the sail of Lee's ship, is the Can Can she once performed, and so on.

In 2016 Finucane was appointed the first ever Creative Fellow of the National Gallery of Victoria and as you watch this show you understand why. Finucane is as much a master of the visual art of performance as Michelangelo was of the art of painting. Every moment, every detail in all her works and in particular this one, are a moving gallery of glorious imagery. Everything from the composition to the light fall, to the textures are considered. Everything Finucane does is luscious and indulgent and glorious and The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez never fails to make the most of everything for the sensual pleasure and spiritual release of the audience.

The show is a little long, but you won't regret a moment of it. Like everything Finucane & Smith produce The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez is riveting and empowering and awe inspiring in its beauty and pain. It is rare for artists of this quality to come together and you should not miss your chance to experience a transformative and spell-binding night of story telling.

4.5 Stars

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