Through The Mill

Through the Mill is a new play about the life of Judy Garland by Ray Rackman, currently playing at the London Theatre Workshop. Starring Helen Sheals, Belinda Wollaston and Lucy Penrose as three different incarnations of the tragic movie starlet the play recounts a specific episode in her life where she is working for CBS on an ill-fated TV show, one of many comebacks the star made in later life.

Rackman deftly overcomes the sheer weight of material in Garlands’ tumultuous story to deliver a play that reveals a snapshot of the troubled star, seamlessly weaving in her memories of her earlier self into the narrative.

Rackman deftly overcomes the sheer weight of material in Garlands’ tumultuous story to deliver a play that reveals a snapshot of the troubled star, seamlessly weaving in her memories of her earlier self into the narrative. The attic like space of the London Theatre Workshop is transformed into a chaotic dressing room by Justin Williams complete with teetering piles of suitcases and clothes rails in which a jazz band set up home. The stage is difficult with an imposing corner and uneven walls so that site lines vary enormously and neither the set or the staging completely overcomes these challenges. The incongruous mix of big band noise and the visual disarray of backstage however perfectly set’s the scene for us to contemplate the dichotomy between Garland’s immense public success and her chaotic personal life.

The three actresses all bring something different to the role, Sheals succeeding most in accurate characterisation, Penrose in Garlands’s heart-breaking vulnerability and Wollaston in her wild sexual passion. They are united however by incredible singing talent each one more than capable of belting out Garlands’ many iconic numbers.

Without this the play would not have been successful. A few dodgy American accents and fluffed lines can be forgiven but it starts to meander towards the end and is too long. Garlands story is extremely sad but the power of the tragedy is diluted by mixing up her timescale so that we only see her in her most desperate of moments. That said the songs are extremely moving and the concert hall atmosphere created by the cast and band is impressive given the tiny space. 

Reviews by Lettie Mckie

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★★★★

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The Blurb

Through the Mill chronicles the turbulent life of the legendary singer, her rise from teenager to MGM movie star, from “has-been” to concert hall darling and her short-lived career as a TV personality. On film, on stage or in people’s living rooms every Sunday evening, Garland was, and continues to be, one of the biggest stars of Hollywood’s golden age. As conflicted as she was celebrated, Through the Mill gives the audience an opportunity to go beyond the rainbow and witness the life of a woman destined for greatness, one who is as loved today as she was when she made her way along the yellow brick road.

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