Theatre / “Table Manners”. Written by Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Michael Weston. At Belconnen Theatre until October 28. Reviewed by LEN POWER
THIS is a slightly odd piece of theatre, based around letters written by the American country singer Patsy Cline to a fan/friend/pen pal in Houston, Texas. Cline’s career in the late 1950s and early 1960s was short but enduringly influential.She was one of the first solo female country stars, and also one of the first who “crossed over” onto the pop music charts. Her career was a high point in an otherwise fairly dull period of music after Elvis joined the army and before the Beatles changed pop music forever. She died in 1963 at age 30 in a plane crash.
The premise of this show is how devoted fan Louise Segar attends a Patsy Cline performance at a beer-barn honky-tonk on the outskirts of Houston in 1961 and befriends the singer. Their friendship continues through letters from Cline over the next two years, that were signed “Love always… Patsy Cline”.
The show is essentially a monologue from Louise, played enthusiastically and convincingly by Mandi Lodge interspersed with 27 of Patsy Cline’s songs sung by Courtney Conway. She does not try to imitate Cline exactly, but captures her phrasing and style well. Conway does not have a great deal to do in the show apart from sing, but she has a strong, confident voice and it will be interesting to see how her career develops in years to come.
The songs are accompanied by two musicians, guitarist Ross Sermons (Billy Bob) and delightfully subtle drummer Tommy Morrison (Bob Bob) with pre-recorded bass lines and occasional harmony lines from Lodge. A fiddle and pedal steel guitar would have filled the sound out rather more authentically, but perhaps out of reach for a small touring company.Staging is minimal. It consists of the two musicians on a small riser at the back with an old-style microphone on a stand in front. To the right of the stage is a kitchen table and chairs with a window behind to suggest Louise’s kitchen. The fairly bleak brick interior of the Bicentennial Hall does suggest that the Houston honky-tonk bar is where most of the show takes place in, but the show could work in just about any venue (and I suspect it has had to).
We don’t learn much about Patsy Cline from the show, but we do get to hear lots of her songs from Courtney Conway, which really is all that is needed for an enjoyable couple of hours. Louise’s narrative is enough to link them together and Mandi Lodge’s assured comedy timing and exuberance ties the show together nicely.
Great music and some good laughs makes this a satisfying night out.