07 November 2011

Drowning in Veronica Lake: Come along and be transported back to the glamour of the golden age of Hollywood.

Playwright Phil Ormsby talks to drama on the waterfront about Veronica Lake, the writing process, and society's 'casual way of disposing of celebrities'.

DOTW: Please tell us a bit about Drowning in Veronica Lake. What is the story?

PO: The play is based on the life of film star Veronica Lake who enjoyed a short reign as a major celebrity in the early 1940’s before being dumped by Paramount and virtually disappearing overnight. For ten years she provided tabloids and movie magazines with gossip and scandal most of which was carefully managed for full effect by the studio’s publicity machine. After she left Hollywood (or was dumped depending on who you want to believe) her career rapidly declined but she never gave up believing she would come back.

Alex Ellis in Drowning Veronica Lake.
DOTW: What made you want to write a play about Veronica Lake?

PO: I liked the idea that hers is a story that repeats itself throughout the entertainment industry – a performer unprepared for sudden fame finds themselves isolated and ends up in self medication and denial. In the end the gossip and scandals overshadow the performer’s actual career. See Michael Jackson, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Amy Winehouse…..

DOTW: What can you tell us about the writing process? What kind of research did you undertake?

PO: There is a ton of material online and the best thing about Veronica is for every story there seems to be a conflicting version. She published a biography in her later years rehashing some of the old magazine stories from her glory days with the benefit of hindsight and adding a bit of tell-all gossip. After her death her mother also published a biography which contradicted much of Veronica’s but with the passage of time neither is verifiable.

Alex and Simon (the Director) would workshop the script and give me their notes and I would rewrite as they went. Having a bit of distance from the process gave me a much better perspective; if I can find someone to actually write my next play for me I’ll be off the hook altogether!

Alex Ellis in Drowning Veronica Lake. 
DOTW: Have you written other plays? How does this one differ/compare?

PO: This is my fifth play and the first about a real character (insomuch as a celebrity can be ‘real’). It’s the first play where the story already existed and I just had to come up with a way of telling it that did it justice. It’s also the first play for which I haven’t been involved in the production process except as the writer. In the past I’ve been director, tech, designer, builder or actor but for Drowning in Veronica Lake I had the luxury of a brilliant team to do all these things and I just had to write. Fantastic!

DOTW: What can you tell us about performer Alex Ellis? What does she bring to the script/this character?

PO: Because Alex bears no actual resemblance to Lake it meant we could abandon any pretence of a faithful impersonation of her and Alex’s intimate connection with the audience makes the story much more personal than just another tale about a fallen star, she brings an emotional honesty to her performance which is very moving and for which I am hugely grateful.  

DOTW: Finally, what should Circa audiences know about Drowning in Veronica Lake?

PO: It will make you laugh, it will make you cry (or choke back a manly sniff) and hopefully it will make you think about the casual way we dispose of people we call celebrities. But most of all come along and be transported back to the glamour of the golden age of Hollywood.

Alex Ellis in Drowning Veronica Lake.
Drowning in Veronica Lake is on until 12 November in Circa Two. To book, please call the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or go online at www.circa.co.nz

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