10 Nov

The tailor-made man *****
By Claudio Macor
This beautifully directed show is one of the most entertaining running in the Off West End circuit. It tells the story of William Haines who was the biggest film star A list off his generation. He was charming, intelligent, very handsome but he was an individualist. Everybody loved him except those in charge at MGM studios – names Louis B Mayer and his cohorts. They hated him because he was the lover of another young man. He was what Louis contemptuously called A Faggot – but he was a huge favourite and so his private life was kept carefully out of the papers. The two greatest gossip writers in Hollywood, Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper were sworn to secrecy and Billy’s great friend was Marion Davis, the girlfriend of William Randolph Hearst.
Even so Billy just refused to behave in the way MGM players were supposed to play – with utmost propriety – at least in public, but Billy was proudly and unashamedly in love with his partner Jimmie Shields
Mitchell Hunt is every inch the movie star Billy and Tom Berkeley is warm and loving as Jimmy. Their scenes together are full of humour and affection – never mawkish or oversentimental. They were known as simply the happiest couple in Hollywood. Louis B Mayer became more and more irritated by his number one star and tried to marry him off to Pola Negri.
Plays about the old Hollywood are always fascinating to watch, but often they are not as well presented as this one. The set is beautifully elegant and adaptable, and the costumes of the ladies are simply divine – all the work of designer, Mike Lees, who used actual twenties and thirties costumes, reinventing the dresses, and making them fit the different shapes of twenty first century actresses, Yvonne Lawler and Rachel Knowles. They play all the actresses, with huge energy, without inhibitions and obviously enjoy themselves hugely using all the affectations of the two great movie periods.
At last Billy blots his copy book completely and Louis manages to destroy every evidence of his existence at MGM. His plan was to make Hollywood rid of him for ever. Which is why we have never heard of him in list of old Hollywood movies.
The play is great fun all the way. By turns funny, witty, moving all the way through. But I must give voice to my admiration for Dean Harris who gives a positively stunning performance as Louis B Mayer. He was a man of varying moods and he tells us a little of his pre Hollywood story with great feeling. He longs for his old life without having the stress of running the studio with recalcitrant stars like William Haines. He makes us understand his fury and easily brings us on to his side at various moments throughout the story.
Such clever writing by Claudio Macor and loving, inventive direction by Bryan Hodgson..

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