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Ghost Light by Molly O’Gorman at the Hope Theatre

Only David (Simon Mulligan), according to David himself, can make anything out of Kat (Shannon Davidson) and Charley Moran (Annie Thorpe), which is a bit like the forty-fifth President of the United States (you know the one) declaring he alone can solve the world’s problems. The issue, apparently, is everyone else – Kat doesn’t listen, Charley is too selfish, and so on. What begins as drama about drama gradually becomes something much wider and increasingly disturbing.

Ghost Light - Photo credit Elena Yianni.
Ghost Light – Photo credit Elena Yianni.

I suppose there are toxic workplaces in many industries, though this production asserts that in an era of mobile telephony and public figures effectively facing trial by social media, the troubles that blighted the likes of Judy Garland (1922-1969) still exist in the entertainment industry. Kat, still in her twenties, has much of her life ahead of her, though rather like Mama Rose in Gypsy continuing to produce the same tired act even after the world has moved on, David insists on putting Kat on stage, tour after tour, doing the same routines she’s been doing for years, to ever dwindling audience numbers, with patronage boosted only by heavily discounting tickets.

There seemed to be more songs in the first half than in the second (there wasn’t a list of musical numbers made available) – some of them end about as abruptly as they began. There’s a good variety of tunes, with pacy ones driving the narrative forward, and others expressing anger and frustration, and one of defiance from Charley, sung beautifully in the second act. If you know anyone who has expressed a strong and serious desire to go into showbusiness, this is a show worth bringing them along to: it’s all smiles and tap dancing on stage, but behind the scenes… let’s just say it’s no wonder Charley prefers an office job, having left ‘The Moran Sisters’ act just before her eighteenth birthday.

The musical’s critical incident raises a question about whether the show really ‘must’ go on, regardless of personal circumstances. In Kat’s case, her insatiable desire to get out there, despite being indisposed (as the industry would have it), was ultimately fuelled by David, her manager and her husband, the controller of her personal and professional lives, who previously refused any and all excuses not to perform. Throw some reckless drug misuse into the mix and there’s almost a textbook story that certain tabloids would be all over. David’s public relations skills are a two-edged sword: they prevent scandal, but the outside world also has no idea how Kat has really been treated.

Interestingly, the show ends without a definitive conclusion. I’d like to think that Kat and Charley might have gone to the media themselves, or published a book about their experiences, or agreed to a television documentary. But with David’s tyrannical grip on all things relating to ‘The Moran Sisters’, that’s easier said than done. All of the cast are convincing in their roles, and Mulligan’s David doesn’t restrict himself to management and production, proving equally as adept as the ladies at tap dancing and other movements. Ellie Councell’s choreography strikes the right balance between wowing an audience and not overdoing it in a studio space.

Whilst there are some lighter moments, the show pulls few punches in its portrayal of a highly toxic relationship. A complex scenario is presented, with food for thought, and without being preachy about the next possible steps. Some emotionally charged performances fit well with misinterpretations about people’s motivations, for good or for ill, in this nuanced and multilayered production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

I wouldn’t be me without you…

The Moran Sisters captured the hearts of a generation when they were children. Then Charley disappeared from the limelight , and Kat kept going, trapped in an abusive marriage. When Charley returns and sees what has happened to her sister, she has to face up to abandoning her sister, and the new life she might have to sacrifice to help her.

Ghost Light is a new musical about child stardom and the treatment of women and girls in the public eye, shining a harsh light on addiction and abuse, but it is also a story of love that survives, no matter the odds.


stage manager JAMIE BURCHELL
sound designer FRANKIE MARTINI
choreographer ELLIE COUNCELL

11 – 29 JULY 2023

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