Four Star Review from Theatre WeeklyStep onto the backlot of Studio 43 and immerse yourself in the world of a living legend, with all the glitz, glamour and tragedy that goes with it.  Through The Mill is the Judy Garland story as you’ve never seen it before. The musical play is set mostly around 1963, during the filming of ‘The Judy Garland Show’ with flashbacks to her earlier life.Originally performed at the London Theatre Workshop, last December, the original cast has returned to the Southwark Playhouse in this new production.

Written and directed by the artistic director of the London Theatre Workshop, Ray Rackham.  The cast is comprised of actor-musicians who provide the soundtrack to the three actresses portraying Judy at different life stages.

Helen Sheals is absolutely captivating as ‘CBS Judy’, perhaps the most demanding of the three roles. She strikes the perfect balance of inspiring awe and fear from a character that is struggling to adapt to a new phase in her career.  Belinda Wollaston as ‘Palace Judy’ gives us the most revealing insight into the life of Judy Garland, fragile and vulnerable at the hands of alcohol and prescription medication.

Lucy Penrose plays ‘Young Judy’, and she is exceptional, there is no doubt she is playing Garland of the ‘Dorothy’ era and each facial expression and physical movement shows the strain the young actress was being placed under.

It is startling just how similarly each actress looks, behaves and sings, you completely forget this is three different people, and instead, feel you are living through each era. The transitions between each Judy are beautifully done, while some of the most mesmerising scenes occur when more than one Judy is performing.

Each of the actresses bring out the acerbic wit that Garland was famous for, that clearly was intended to mask a need to be loved. This makes the play incredibly funny: “You may recognise me? Liza Minelli is my daughter”.

Perry Meadowcroft is outstanding as ‘George Schlatter’ demonstrating the delicacy that was required in handling the temperamental Judy, while Tom Elliot Reade as ‘Roger Edens’ shows the tender nurturing afforded to a young Judy, a stark contrast to her overbearing mother ‘Ethel Gumm’ played by Amanda Bailey.

Despite a relatively young audience, the songs are familiar to all, from ‘Over The Rainbow’ to ‘The Man That Got Away’ and less well-known songs such as ‘Do It Again’ proving that the appeal of Judy Garland has not waned over the years.

The set is in stark contrast to Hollywood glamour, instead, corrugated iron and wooden frames bring you behind the scenes. While all around are the tiniest pieces of memorabilia that add to the authenticity. There’s even a yellow brick road.

Through The Mill is a wonderful step back in time to an era that we have all become familiar with, but gives us an intriguing, and often heartbreaking, glimpse into the private life of an icon.

Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly


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