Hot Lips & Cold War
London Theatre Workshop
Reviewed – 1st February 2018
“the three actors delivering palpable chemistry”
Welcome to the Kennedy administration, a time when race riots are escalating, the fear of nuclear war is unending, and the President keeps locking himself in the pool house with young ladies. In this piece developed through the London Theatre Workshop, Lizzie Freeborn takes us on a musical exploration of one of most glamorous and fraught periods in modern culture.
The show opens with a wide-eyed Irish girl called Maria (Sylvie Briggs), who finds herself in the confidence of Jackie Kennedy after being taken to America by the seedy Davy (Adam Small). Briggs is very engaging to watch and exudes an innocence which greatly contrasts with the scheming and deception the plot is so rife with.
Marcia Sommerford is poised but determined as Jackie Kennedy, and brings strength to a woman having to accept her husband’s infidelities and the pressures of a high-profile existence. “This isn’t a home, it’s an institution!” her husband reminds her harshly as she tries to create some domestic normality. Robert Oliver is suitably charming as JFK, and possesses an incredibly powerful voice (very fitting for the leader of the free world). Kenny O’Donnel (Lewis Rae) struggles to work for the interests of both parties while remaining impartial, and Rae succeeds in showing the conflict of professional obligations and personal opinions.
The costumes (Hal and Ruthie Theatrical Design) are very well done and include a notable number of changes for each character. Jackie Kennedy’s silk nightgown is a clever reminder that the First Lady was not lacking in sex appeal, albeit a more subtle kind than displayed by her more buxom love rival. In ‘Pentaxia’ we are shown the chemistry between JFK and his two partners as they dance around each other. This number demonstrates how JFK can be both an affectionate husband and a serial womaniser, with the three actors delivering palpable chemistry between them.
The subplot involving integration adds a nice balance to the glamour of the Kennedy-centred storylines, and leads to one the standout songs ‘You’ll Hear the South Roar’. Ashley Knight throws himself into the role of the prejudiced Southerner Jerome Kingsley and Florence Odumosu gives a powerful performance as Grace, a black staff member trying to protest injustice without jeopardising her position. Her son Marvin (Jamal Franklin) might even be more charming than the POTUS himself and his number ‘You Bet You Be Glad’ is particularly enjoyable.
Freya Tilly plays Marilyn with an effective differentiation between the public persona and the private, and gives an impressive rendition of the infamous ‘Happy Birthday’ incident without straying into parody territory. Marilyn’s death is staged particularly well (Tim McArthur) as the star walks away from the president who has grown bored of her and towards a brightly lit doorway at the back of the stage.
This was a thoroughly entertaining experience that offered alternative perspectives on iconic moments from this period. The score is strong throughout with more than a few standout moments from the cast, a definite recommendation.
Reviewed by Ella McCarron
Photography by Jamie Scott-Smith
Hot Lips & Cold War
London Theatre Workshop until 24th February