Monday, August 4, 2008

A Conversation With Edith Head Review 3 stars

A Conversation With Edith Head Review 3 stars

Review of A Conversation With Edith Head
by Aline Waites for remotegoat on 04/08/08

Set in 1981, Susan Claassen gives a virtuoso performance of one of the most iconic figures on the Hollywood scene. Edith Head was known as Designer to the Stars until her death in 1981 after completing work on Steve Martin's film "Dead Men don't Wear Plaid", a movie which was dedicated to her memory.

During her long career she received eight Oscars - more than any other woman in history and was nominated for 35 more. For forty four years she worked at Paramount creating garments for stars like Mae West, Bette Davies, Ginger Rogers, Marlene Dietrich and Barbara Stanwyck. She was also one of Hitchcock's favourite designers.

The set is a fascinating array of signed photographs and glamorous costumes and Claassen wears a neat grey suit and the signature bangs and glasses of her idol. This is an honest, totally believable acting performance. The audience is encouraged to take part, to ask questions to which she replies in an occasionally acerbic or dismissive way and she barks questions back at them like the schoolmistress Edith once was.

Head's beginning was a fraud. She worked as a French teacher, taking Art lessons in her spare time. When Paramount studios advertised for someone to work in the costume department, she stole designs from some of the other students and presenting them as her own, got the job. This set up a pattern in her life. Although she was a hugely talented designer in her own right, she accepted the Oscar for Sabrina, even though it should have gone to Givenchy who was responsible for the whole of Audrey Hepburn's wardrobe. Givenchy is dismissed with scorn - he never stuck up for himself so her claim on the Oscar was valid, she seems to say. Actually, this was sheer greed on her part because she had eight of them on her mantelshelf!
She gossips about her stars. Gives away secrets about their figure faults - and how she managed make them look perfect. Her admiration for her "ladies" borders on idolatry - and the feelings were mutual.

She adores Marlene. "If you want the most elegant female in the world, you put Dietrich into a tailored suit, the plainer the suit, the more elegant she looked." She speaks warmly of most of them, although she almost spits every time she mentions the name Claudette Colbert.

The show is packed with anecdotes which are amusing and indicative of the romantic fantasy that was early Hollywood. In B Westerns her demure gingham gowns were turned down by the producers. Low neck dresses were more attractive to the director and despite Indian ambushes, wheels falling off wagons etc, the dresses stayed pristine - clean and starched and the necklines never got displaced.

Towards the end of the show someone asks:"Have you any regrets?". She gives him a Bette Davies look and snaps "I never dressed Marilyn Monroe or the Chicago white sox"

A must for movie buffs.
Event Venues & Times
Showing until 31/08/08 Studio Space at Leicester Square Thea... 5 Leicester Place, London, WC2H 7BP

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