Puppet put-downs and nostalgia

Thank You For Being A Friend (Matthew Management and Neil Gooding Productions)

QPAC, Cremorne Theatre

October 6 – 17

all of the puppets

“Thank You For Being A Friend” … it’s a puppet show tribute to “The Golden Girls”. And from the moment it begins with accurate recreation of the iconic show’s opening credits featuring the puppets as its stars, it is clear that it is a show sure to make good on its promise to present the ultimate Golden Girls experience.

This clever beginning also signposts the show’s setup which sees the audience assuming role of that perhaps in-studio at the sitcom’s taping. As well as authentic credits, there is also use of the original insert music between scenes and the screening of old television advertisements between acts, which joyfully unite the audience in sing-along to the Décore and Flake ads of old and reminiscing about long-forgotten favourites like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Family Ties”.

It’s 1980s everywhere with a carefully reproduced pallet of pastels and palms to recreate the lounge room and kitchen of lusty Southern belle Blanche Devereaux’s Miami home that shares with her equally-mature housemates: dim-witted Minnesotan Rose Nylund, New York’s straight-talking Dorothy Zbornak and Dorothy’s sharp-tongued mother Sophia Petrillo. And the production features many of the storylines from the series’ lengthy run from 1985 to 1992, including requisite  kitchen cheesecake discussion.

cheesecake

Although set in the same place, the same is not so for time as early-show dialogue is peppered with modern-day mentions that don’t always work. While references to “Fifty Shades of Grey” suit the narrative of the notoriously man-hungry landlord Blanche, Kardashian comments clearly don’t belong. And when Rose’s attempts to compose entry into a song contest include talk of Spring Break, it is ruined by forced attempt at humour by making mention also of Todd Todd McKenney, which is clearly of no relevance to a song about Miami.

son

“Thank You For Being A Friend” tackles some of the same issues of the original series in its storylines, always explored with its trademark irreverence. Blanche’s (Julia Dray) son, Jeremiah (Nigel Turner-Carroll), has returned home to break the news that he and his same-sex partner are having a surrogate child. Meanwhile, Sophia (Donna Lee) is equally motivated in her schemes of inventive money-making and playful revenge against daughter Dorothy (Darren Mapes) for tricking her into trip to the doctor. Scenes are always authentic as the girls fight over the same date, intend to wear and identical dress and trial Sophia’s latest pasta sauce creation while picturing her Sicilian tales and Rose’s (Meredith O’Reilly) nonsensical ‘back in Saint Olaf’ stories.

Ultimately, however, “The Golden Girls” was a character-based comedy and in this regard “Thank You For Being A Friend” is spot-on as the girls mock each other constantly, always with an underlying affection. Despite being captured as puppets from the waist up, the four lead characters are instantly recognisable, down to Sophia’s ever-present handbag and Blanche’s voluptuous assets. The puppetry is also accomplished, with the visible performers mimicking the puppets’ movements and suggestions, such as when Mapes limps off stage.

blanche and dorthory

Dray is a standout performer as Blanche, capturing her melodramatic youth-obsessed demeanour and original actress Rue McClanahan’s mannerisms at every opportunity. Donna Lee recreates Sophia’s voice to perfection in delivery of Estelle Getty’s trademark witty dialogue and sarcastic responses. (No matter how many times she quips “slut” in Blanche’s direction, it is still funny).

sophia

And the timing of Mapes’ delivery of Dorothy’s cutting, dry humour represents perfect reproduction of Bea Arthur’s take, beyond just deep voice and mock-masculinity. Add in O’Reilly with vague voice befitting Betty White’s naïve Rose and Turner-Carroll in an array of support roles, and it is almost like watching an extended episode of the original show.

“Thank You For Being A Friend” contains all of those endearing hallmarks that made “The Golden Girls” so popular and when it stays faithful to its source material it works a treat in catering for the enduring affection that audiences obviously feel towards its characters. Those unfamiliar with the original series will obviously not have this same appreciation of the show’s spirit, however, will still be able to follow along easily enough. “Thank You For Being a Friend” is light-hearted and nostalgic fun, and when considered from this perspective, offers audiences a welcome trip back in tv time… complete with old lady puppet Irish dance off routine.

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