Wednesday 2 August 2017

The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez review

Lola Montez died when she was 42. And when she was 90. And also when she was 36 and 64 years of age. She died on stage and on a ship. She breathed her last breath in Melbourne and also in Bavaria. So unpredictable and unique was this Irish actor / entertainer's life that it was only a matter of time before a show was created about her, and who better to do that than Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith with The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez. 

A red curtain runs along the back of the stage, with Lola's name hanging on a piece of wood. A chest rests in the middle of the floor, again inscribed with her name. The large, near-empty performance space at Her Majesty's Ballarat could easily dwarf a lesser performer, but fortunately Caroline Lee as the eponymous entertainer (herself a direct descendant of Lola) easily fills the stage with the energy and enthusiasm that Lola would no doubt have possessed. Finucane's signature large, bold movements are evident in her direction, while ensuring that we get to see a vulnerable and (somewhat) honest side to Lola. 

 Joining Lee on stage is dancer Holly Durant whose acts build on Lola's escapades and create captivating live art interpretations of what is being shared with us. There's a variety of music throughout with each song - including Sarah Vaughan's aptly titled "Whatever Lola Wants", Michael Bublé 's "Feeling Good" and Goldfrapp's "Oh La La" - highlighting different aspects of Lola's personality. 

Smith's imaginative and descriptive script takes us on a number of Lola's adventures, including her scandalous performance in Melbourne in 1855 and her subsequent attack of a reviewer in Ballarat who had criticised her show. Lola's words come alive on stage, and with a well-thought out and supportive score - and a little imagination - you can virtually see these events happening on the stage. 

The intimate portrayal of who Lola was and how she should have behaved can easily be seen as an affront as to how women were supposed to behave back in the 1800s, and to some extent, how women are supposed to behave today. Lola never conformed to anybody's rule and whatever Lola wanted, Lola really did get. You could be forgiven for thinking that some of the stories in The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez are embellished, and for all we know maybe they are, but this is a show about a woman who never let others dictate who or what she should be and Finucane and Smith never lose sight of that. 

The Exotic Lives of Lola Montez was performed at Her Majesty's Ballarat between 28 - 30 July. For further touring information, visit Finucane & Smith.

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