Before there were Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha; there were Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia. Watch out world, The Golden Girls are back with their risque stories and sharp comedic tongues in tow. For long time fans, it will feel like their four favourite gal pals have simply been resurrected in puppet form.
After a successful run at Theatre Works in Melbourne, Thank You For Being A Friend, written by Thomas Duncan-Watt and Jonathan Worsley, now has its sights set on Sydney and is being performed against the backdrop of Mardi Gras. When co-directors Neil Gooding and Luke Joslin first saw the play, they were surprised at the positive response from the predominantly gay audiences. This can perhaps be attributed to the fact that the original series spoke openly about homosexuality. Or maybe it’s because Bea Arthur became a gay icon who left her entire estate to a shelter for young homosexuals who had been rejected by their families. It’s also possible that an Avenue-Q style puppet show about four eccentric old ladies was just too deliciously camp not to love.
Chrystal de Grussa, who plays Blanche, has other ideas about why the new production has been so favourably received by the gay community. “They are four accepting women. They accept people for who they are…It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, you’re straight, you’re transgender, it doesn’t really matter…you can see yourself in them in some way. It’s like taking one of those quizzes; Which Golden Girl Are You?” The actress also discussed how the production has appeal for a more mainstream audience by stating that “…there’s some really interesting messages that aren’t just for the gay community or the older community; but the younger community as well.”
Fans of the original will remember that the characters discussed serious topics such as death, abortion and artificial insemination. Despite these subjects still being relatively taboo during the mid eighties to early nineties, the show didn’t alienate the general public. They were such lovable characters that they managed to get away with it by injecting the trademark humour that was integral to the show. They were progressive without being aggressive. You’ll find these same characteristics in Thank You For Being A Friend. As de Grussa herself professes, “It’s silly…it’s genuine. It’s like sitting down and watching three episodes of The Golden Girls back to back.”
Long time Golden Girls lovers will also be happy to learn that set designer David Horne took painstaking care whilst recreating The Golden Girls set, particularly in regards to the famous lounge room and kitchen. Most importantly, one pivotal scene takes place around the kitchen table as the characters indulge in their signature cheesecake, which always acted as a cure-all throughout the television series.
One of the most interesting aspects of Thank You For Being A Friend is of course the choice to utilise life-size puppets controlled by actors. It may sound like this could distract audiences from the story, but de Grussa claims that this is surprisingly not the case. After talking to audience members during the Melbourne performances, she discovered that everyone was enjoying it on different levels. Some watched the puppets for the duration of the show, others focused on the actors, and others alternated between the two. None, however, felt distracted. De Grussa attributes this to the actors being more than just vehicles of movement and voice. They become the characters and show the facial expressions that the puppets are incapable of, which adds another layer to the production itself. Rather than fighting for the attention of the audience, the puppets and actors truly work in tandem to create a touching and hilarious show.
Thank You For Being A Friend is playing at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale from Thursday February 13 until Friday February 28.