Ava: The Secret Conversations at Riverside Studios
Drawing audiences back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, this compelling new play, Ava: The Secret Conversations, is a raw exploration of one of the most iconic legendary femme fatales, Ava Gardner. Her intricate private life, tainted by alcoholism, rocky marriages and numerous reckless dalliances, was devoured by the public.
As a self-confessed fan of the Hollywood star, Downton Abbey actress Elizabeth McGovern has taken the memoirs between Ava and her ghost writer biographer, Peter Evans, and adapted them for this production, whilst also positioning herself playing the lead role of Ava Gardner herself.
The two-person play unfolds over 90 minutes and unearths the relationship between Gardner and Evans. Anatol Yusef takes on the role as her writer, as well as giving an unlikely portrayal of her three famous husbands – the actor, Mickey Rooney, clarinettist, Artie Shaw, and the legendary singer, Frank Sinatra.
The lustrous production from director Gaby Dellal also involves beautiful set design from 59 Productions, which is mostly fixed on Ava’s final dwelling at 34 Ennismore Gardens, London before she died. An opulent, velvet chaise longue takes centre-stage, offering a kind of therapist’s chair from which Ava then divulges her life’s narrative to the inquisitive biographer, Evans. The set changes as Evans morphs into her steady trail of husbands. We see the backstage area of where Mickey Rooney and Gardner first met, a stage where Sinatra sang to his mistress, and visual archive projections of photos and Hollywood scenery conveying cinematic touches that transport us back to the era.
Evans is hugely adaptable with his array of American accents and varying stances for each of the husbands he plays, and it’s hugely interesting to see how he, too, becomes transfixed by Gardner’s fading beauty. McGovern is literally made for this role. Her Southern drawl is as sultry as it is at times humorously foul-mouthed; her pale, thin limbs are always elegantly poised as she draws from a cigarette or swirls her whiskey glass around. Impressively, she is as capable of detailing the effects of a double stroke on her physique as she is able to convey the youthfulness she once had.
Ava: The Secret Conversations is an insightful glimpse into the Hollywood legend. Though it is elegantly performed by the two actors, the slow pace and drawn-out script means it’s unlikely to draw in a younger audience – unless, of course, they are diehard Downton fans.
Ava: The Secret Conversations is at Riverside Studios from 26th January until 16th April 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: