MAKE IT SNAPPY – Pamela Rabe & Philip Quast about “His Girl Friday”


NOBODY says “Stop the presses!” any more. But they do in the theatre. In His Girl Friday, hardboiled newspaper editor Walter Bums leans into an upright telephone and barks out the immortal words: “Listen to me, I want you to tear out the whole front page. That’s what I said, the whole front page!”

In the same play, ace reporter Hildy Johnson tells her boss: “The paper’ll have to learn to do without me . . . I’m through … peeking through keyholes, running after fire engines, waking people up in the middle of the night.”

“It is language from another era,” actor Pamela Rabe tells me, “but it is delicious.”

Rabe plays Johnson and Philip Quast is Burns in a new Melbourne Theatre Company production of His Girl Friday. And meeting these expert actors at Little Press, a bar on Flinders St, they look the part — as if they’ve just walked out of a Chicago newsroom in the 1930s.

Pamela Rabe & Philip Quast | Photos by Ben SwinnertonMore importantly, Rabe and Quast sound right They’re relishing the rapid-fire repartee penned by former Chicago journalists Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and finding the pace that powered Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in the celebrated 1940 Hollywood version.

Quast says of Howard Hawks’ famous screwball comedy: “Its fast, all right At the time of the movie, it must have been a bit shocking to audiences. They’d never really experienced that before.”

Rabe agrees: “I think what the writers wanted to replicate was the sound of a newsroom. That cacophony of typewriting and chatter. Today, of course, you’d say it goes at the speed of tweets.”

Sounds like verbal ping pong …
Rabe: “More like tennis, really.”
Quast: “Yeah. There are definite baseline rallies.
“Then we move to the net where there are volleys … and that’s a different rhythm. Boom, boom, boom.
“Someone scores a point. Next serve.”
Rabe: “Stretching the tennis analogy, there are times when there are almost 15 people on stage and then it’s not singles or doubles … its a very crowded court.” (more…)

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