The Despondent Divorcée

We’re in 1940s New York at an upscale hotel, where a new jazz bar is having its opening launch party. A junior photographer is sent to cover the event, and the opportunistic owner of the hotel ingratiates himself with the journalist for favourable press coverage. But, when a guest of the hotel throws herself off the top of the building the hotel is placed on lockdown, the ambitious journalist has a new story to chase after. He speaks with various people in the hotel, trying to piece together a portrait of Francis Dupree - a story to go along with the photo he captured of the woman as she fell to her death.

The script almost begins to explore the implications of a journalistic portrayal being more favourable than the subject deserves, but this possibility is not developed further.

The production aims to achieve a swanky New York jazz aesthetic, but it doesn’t dazzle. There are some catchy musical numbers, which are sung competently enough, but we never quite arrive at a stage where the acting flows naturally, and the actors often react to each other’s cues half a beat late (perhaps this fluidity will improve as the show reaches a later point in its run). Towards the later part of the show, the audience develops a sense of Francis Dupree’s sympathetic character, but the script doesn’t allow the various members of the hotel to be more than a wide range of character types: the confident, stand-offish barman; the timid maid; the haughty singer; the posh, neglected fiance.

We are invited to question the ethical boundaries of profiting off a personal tragedy. Can the journalist ever justify revealing somebody else’s story by arguing that he is simply stating the facts? Could it be plausible that the journalist is writing about a tragic death not voyeuristically, but as a tribute to her life? These questions certainly graze upon pertinent questions in today’s media, with its abundance of graphic images reporting the ‘news’. But, the show doesn’t manage to push these questions into more nuanced grounds. It’s difficult to see the protagonist-journalist as anything other than calculating. The script almost begins to explore the implications of a journalistic portrayal being more favourable than the subject deserves, but this possibility is not developed further.

The show has a wide array of characters, a reasonably compelling plot-line, and some catchy tunes. But, it doesn’t cultivate subtler ruminations of a pertinent ethical question and our emotional connection to the characters remains underdeveloped–this show is perhaps more suited to a relatively young audience.

Reviews by Kyung Oh

Underbelly, Cowgate

Before Us

★★★★
Traverse Theatre

Men in the Cities

★★★★
Pleasance Courtyard

Years to the Day

★★
theSpace on Niddry St

Can't Stay Away!

Summerhall

Snoutology for Beginners

★★★★
C venues - C

The Road to Skibbereen

★★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

A 1940s New York hotel spirals through a storm of media speculation following the eighth-storey suicide leap of a desperate young woman. A psychological thriller featuring the bittersweet poetry of Sara Teasdale and live jazz music. The audience enter the Kendrick Hotel's hauntingly desolate jazz bar and witness flickers of the fractured final days of Frances Dupree. The shameless exploitation behind a ferocious media circus is called to question in this unsettling story of identity, morality, and disgrace. Previous reviews: ***** (ThreeWeeks). **** (Scotsman). 'HookHitch grab their audiences and don't let go' **** (FestivalJournal.co.uk).