When the acclaimed theatre director Neil Armfield presented the keynote address to the graduating students at NIDA in 2013, he spoke passionately about never taking the concept of 'play' out of a stage production.
John Misto's new Australian play Lip Service fulfils that interpretation in this production at the Ensemble Theatre.
The script flows with one-liners - over two hours. In the hands of consummately talented actors and a powerful director (Nicole Buffoni), the gathered were suspended on a thrilling journey set in the 1960's where the writer plays with the idea of two mega successful business women - Helena Rubenstein (Amanda Muggleton) and Elizabeth Arden (Linden Wilkinson) meeting, competing, haranguing and deceiving each other.
Amanda Muggleton hardly leaves the stage. The role is totally demanding and she grasps the part with highly professional vigour. Her elaborate costumes are perfectly styled to remind us of the glamorous presence of this Jewish/Polish woman who took refuge in Australia post WW11 and created a business pathway for herself through the recipe of 'her mother's' face cream that made her a world famous success.
Her effervescent zest for life and thirst for success meant that she always had one eye fixed on her competitors - Revlon and Elizabeth Arden. Linden Wilkinson delivers another skilled performance as she shapes the character of Elizabeth.
Along the way Rubenstein employs down-on-his-luck Patrick O'Higgins (Tim Draxl) as her assistant and she sets him up to be her punching bag. However - as her health declines and her feistiness withers it is O'Higgins she turns to to hold her hand. A touching and lyrical final image of the play is music and song. Tim Draxl kneels at her bedside and sings to her.
The styling of this production was extremely pleasing - especially the architecture of the sets which allowed for the fast action of the progress of the play. The set lighting played with the signature colours of the Rubenstein and Arden brands - and glowed pink and blue.
Lip Service is on at Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli until Saturday September 30th. Production photo by Prudence Upton.