Review: Sex Lies & Betrayal: Memoirs of a Hollywood Star

In a symphony of charisma and crudeness, JTM Productions presents Sex Lies & Betrayal: Memoirs of a Hollywood Star. (Image source: Holden Street Theatres)

By Dani Bozoski | @danibozoski

If there is one word that could describe Sex Lies & Betrayal: Memoirs of a Hollywood Star, it’s timeless. In the space of an hour, Karla Hillam as the 1940s femme fatale Miss Nightingale, presents a provocative one-woman-show describing her life and loves. But Hillam’s captivating energy and stage presence makes it feel like a whole cast could be performing. All eyes are on Miss Nightingale as she combines the drama of a film noir and the sultriness of a Mills and Boon novel with a splash of humour, masterfully written and directed by Margaret Fisk.

Hillam filled all corners of the room with her powerful voice, transitioning smoothly between song and dialogue. While musical arranger Ned Wright-Smith’s decision to use modern songs, remixed into a classic Hollywood sound was slightly jarring at times, it added relatability and brought an interesting vintage twist into the 21st century.

Through Fisk’s artful writing and Hillam’s performance, the pacing of Sex Lies & Betrayal made the hour fly by. Being a one-woman show, the risk of losing the audience was high, but at no point did the performance lose momentum. The audience was introduced to the confident Miss Nightingale and guided through the story of her Hollywood career. Thanks to brilliant characterisation, we come to see Miss Nightingale on a much deeper level by the telling of her highs, lows, and unashamedly large number of sexual encounters. Holding nothing back, Hillam recounts the explicit sexual detail in a confident manner, and Fisk’s writing feels far from cliché or corny.

The range of themes and emotions achieved by the show make it feel like Miss Nightingale is an old friend. Beginning as an exciting tale of sex and passion in Hollywood, and growing into a deep narrative of love, loss, temptation and loneliness, the Hollywood star’s story feels like one anyone can relate to. Commentary on contemporary issues like sexuality, societal acceptance and the strange concept of fame again made the show feel like an important and timeless piece.

The design, by Christina Logan-Bell, was simple but effective. The few props felt like a 1940s living room, but didn’t overshadow Hillam, allowing her to vibrantly consume the area. The lighting, by Jason Bovaird, was also very simple; an alluring, warm glow that rarely changed but perfectly emphasised the mood portrayed by Fisk’s production. The simplicity of these elements, however, was perfect in the way that the music and character were truly the main focus.

The combination of Hillam’s silky voice and comfortable characterisation made Miss Nightingale a pleasure to spend the evening with. Fisk’s writing and direction led to a highly interesting show that harmonised current pop culture relatability with the timelessness of vintage classics. A titillating glimpse into the not-so-fabulous life of a Hollywood star, Sex Lies & Betrayal: Memoirs of a Hollywood Star is a wonderful must-see cabaret.

Read On the Record’s interview with Hillam here.

Sex, Lies & Betrayal Memoirs of a Hollywood Star (R18+)is running at Holden Street Theatres on July 16 and 17 2021.

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