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To Be Or Not To Be Scarlett O’Hara at the Etcetera Theatre

To Be Or Not To Be Scarlett O 'Hara
To Be Or Not To Be Scarlett O ‘Hara

The plot, or at least its conclusion, is clearly of little consequence in To Be Or Not To Be Scarlett O’Hara, in which Vivien Leigh (Sophia Eleni) goes on to play the iconic role in Gone With The Wind. At a rudimentary level, one could quite easily deduce that the sort of question posed by the show’s title is silly, even vacuous: why audition for a role, why go through the application process for a job, if the applicant ultimately has reservations about it? But an added element to the question is thrown in by film director George Cukor (Tino Orsini) – if Leigh were to turn down this role, because of the way Hollywood operated at the time, this would close doors to the movie industry permanently for her.

Vivien’s reaction to securing the part, which she seems to know is going to be “the role of the century” is certainly an unusual one. Larry (Federico Moro) – not yet Sir Laurence Olivier let alone Baron Olivier of Brighton – is not exactly jumping for joy at her announcement, but neither is she. The clipped tones of the era are quite a delight to listen to, and with a little more wry humour, this might have passed as a Noel Coward-esque play.

The script is riddled with personal details, which are more than permissible given the setting – after hours, in a hotel room. But this private conversation is very much a construct of the imagination, rather like Peter Morgan’s play The Audience, in which HM Queen Elizabeth II holds a private weekly audience with the Prime Minister. And like that other play, there’s always an element of knowing and consciously remembering that the conversation that takes place on stage may well be radically different to what was actually said that night.

An almost forensic dissection by Larry of a portion of the script for Gone With The Wind may have been quite tedious for some, or else pompous. This play becomes, for a while, a show about acting itself, a drama about drama. A line could be improved with different emphasis or a pause for effect, and so on.

And so on, and so on. It is, I suppose, the sort of creative process of redrafting and re-redrafting that occurs in the industry to this day, but to sit and watch a blow by blow account of it only made me think of the iconic line (not featured in this play): “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Relations between Vivien and Larry are volatile, lurching from the heights of civility to all out sniping, and back again. Only the relatively late arrival of Cukor to the hotel room (having knocked first, of course) brings some order, even if only in the name of politeness in front of a guest. Their earlier vehement disagreements, however, come across as healthy – they are, after all, each able to understand what the other goes through in the audition process.

At a deeper level, the play’s critical incident poses a dilemma for Vivien, and it is here (without giving it all away) that the play’s title becomes a genuine conundrum. This show had, as I say, moments which I cared little, if anything, for. Nonetheless, it is a good show, with near-universal applicability. Very many people at some point have been asked or invited to do so something they have never done before, and have had to weigh up their options accordingly. A confident and compelling production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

To be or not to be Scarlett O’Hara’ tackles, with imagination, the moment immediately following the Christmas dinner of 1938 at George Cukor’s (the first director-in-charge of “Gone With The Wind”) home. In Donald Spoto’s biography of Laurence Olivier it’s told that, while dining, Cukor took Vivien to one side to tell her that she had been chosen for the role of Scarlett O’Hara and that everyone was happy for her “except, maybe, Larry”.

In this one act play, we meet the two famous actors back at their hotel room after the infamous dinner and see them deal with the shift that a golden opportunity such as interpreting the eternal role of Scarlett would have on their relationship. Just when the couple seems to find a balance, an unforeseen twist reveals itself. Fact or fiction? We will never know…

“To be or not to be” was Hamlet’s torment. Vivien’s. Or anybody’s.

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