Theatre review: Heather Massie's Hedy Lamarr play is highly inventive
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It’s not surprising that Heather Massie chose Hedy Lamarr as her subject for a one-woman show. They have a lot in common – both actresses, both with a scientific background and both intent on empowering women.
Heather studied astrophysics and at one time intended to become an astronaut. Hedy was a 1930s movie star who married six times and had the enquiring mind of an inventor. The man who impressed her most was her father who instilled in her an inquisitive nature and a determination to improve lives where she could. When working with Howard Hughes she studied birds and fish to streamline the design of aircraft wings.
On a small stage at the pop-up Accidental Theatre Shaftersbury Square the New York actress becomes Hedy; she also becomes the voice of the men and women who make up her Hollywood life story – Bette Davis, Louie B Mayer and, best of all, Jimmy Stewart. Heather gets him perfectly.
Lamarr, who was the first woman to appear nude on the screen in the film Ecstasy, goes through terrible marriages, a failing career, shoplifting and lawsuits. Then, working with composer George Antheil she develops an idea which changed the world.
Taking the mechanism of the piano role used on pianola, she designed a radio guidance system to control Allied torpedoes in the Second World War. Today her basic technology has been incorporated into Wi-Fi, mobile phones, even bar codes. She won many awards later in her life and, after her death, was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.
Writer Massie has taken this story and fashioned it round herself; she looks and sounds and acts like the movie icon. The audience of around 50 were appreciative and stayed on to ask questions and to hear how she is taking this show round the world, into schools and communities to fulfil her mission to encourage young women in endeavours of science and technology, to establish Lamarr as a role model for intelligence and ingenuity and to inspire audiences to find ways each day to make the world a better place.
From Belfast she moves to the Aran Islands on July 6 and 8; she promises she will return to perform again in Belfast.