Ava: The Secret Conversations :Theatre review

To be the woman men wanted, that was my only job recalls Ava Gardner, looking back to the heady days when she was a Hollywood goddess married to the likes of Mickey Rooney and Frank Sinatra. But now she is living in a flat in Ennismore Gardens in London and in order to make ends meet has agreed to speak to a journalist about her life for a book.

The journalist, who fancies himself a serious writer, also wants his own identity, that of the creator of an original novel but but his agent isn’t interested. 

So, two people who want to be seen as something more than they are, find themselves pushed together to produce an account of Ava’s life which will sell. In short, what the publishers want are the lurid details of her tumultuous romances, especially with Sinatra. 

The actress and the writer spar with each other, fall out and inevitably, in the cosy surroundings of the flat, fall into a hesitant physical attraction. Through their sparky back and forth verbal volleys we learn the story of Ava’s humble but wholesome beginnings, her wide eyed entry into Hollywood and her love of sex which led to passionate but doomed relationships.  On screen we see the real Ava from her films and scandalous newspaper headlines. Scenes from her rocky marriages are dramatised with the journalist taking on the role of her men. 

Promotional photos of Ava and Elizabeth McGovern at the Riverside Studios

For Elizabeth McGovern (Ava) the production is a passion project and while she is, perhaps, too soft to be entirely convincing as the notoriously foul mouthed, hard Ava, she captures the essence of the simple farm girl within.

Anatol Yusef is superb as the journalist and his metamorphosis into ol’ blue eyes Frank during one scene is particularly impressive.

There’s a little too much spoken exposition at the start to set Ava’s background but that’s a minor quibble. This is a hugely enjoyable and absorbing piece of theatre. It works beautifully both for those who love the golden age of Hollywood and those who know little about it.

The intimate setting at the newly refurbished Riverside Studios is ideal for this delve back into a bygone, glamorous era. 

I recommend it highly – go spend an afternoon or evening in the warm sitting room of a Hollywood beauty and feisty broad the likes of whom they don’t make anymore. You’ll thoroughly enjoy the experience.