Taking three important moments in the life and career of Judy Garland, this new play by Ray Rackham is bittersweet to watch. 

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Ray Rackham’s new play Through the Mill  looks at the troubled life of Judy Garland by presenting her at three very different stages in her career: a young Judy just starting out and being pressured by her mother and movie studio, a Judy at the height of her career and her struggles with prescription medication and drink and finally a Judy who is trying to make her comeback on television.

While all three parts show her very different struggles at different times, all come together to create a comprehensive portrait of complicated woman.

Much of the success of the show comes down to the performances of the three actresses playing Judy. Lucy Penrose as young Judy looks startlingly alike to the actress and her voice really brings Judy back to life. But Penrose is able to convey Garland’s insecurities and vulnerability in a heart wrenching way that really draws the audience into her performance.

Belinda Wollaston as Palace Judy, is a confident performer and her interpretation of Judy reveals a character that has become less certain of her talents and abilities, feeling increasingly alone as her fame increases. Although still convincing, sometimes Wollaston’s vocals get a bit carried away so it loses some of the focus.

Finally, Helen Sheals as CBS Judy is sharp, humorous and reveals a Judy who has become self-important and stubborn in doing things her way.

The show flits between all three and it can become slightly disorientating in places – particularly when all three Judy’s are on stage. It should also be noted that the show is a long one and does need some editing in places – for example some of the scenes during the recording of the television series could have been edited down as it didn’t add anything to our understanding of Judy.

The show does cover a lot of ground and while the attempt is strong, it does feel as though too much has been put in and as a consequence slows the pace of the show down.

However, that doesn’t diminish the high quality performances from all of the main cast, who are amply supported by Amanda Bailey as Ethel Gumm – who makes life difficult for her daughter constantly and Harry Anton as Sid Luft who despite all the ups and downs of living and dealing with Judy seems to be a genuinely positive influence in her life.

It is a fascinating play that pieces together Garland’s life and career, revealing a woman whose talents were a blessing and a curse, getting swallowed up in an industry with no mercy or emotional support. The production has been crafted well by director Max Reynolds, who blends humour with tension to create a show that keeps the audience engaged throughout.

Through the Mill performs at the London Theatre Workshop until the 19th December. For more information and to book tickets visit: http://londontheatreworkshop.co.uk/through-the-mill/

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