An historical excursion into the salacious underbelly of Auckland's nightlife finds a suitably lascivious venue in the central hall of the White House - an "adult entertainment centre" housed in a neo-classical temple built for the Theosophical Society in the 1920s.
The play pays tribute to legendary brothel owner Flora Mackenzie, who drifted into her profession during World War II when shiploads of American GIs were cruising Auckland's streets looking for a good time.
Playwright Elisabeth Easther has created two incarnations of Flora, who is first seen as an amicable alcoholic played with feisty charm by Yvette Parsons. As she taunts the vice-squad detective who is reluctantly bringing her to trial, Flora emerges as a fiercely independent woman with a shrewdly realistic understanding of the human condition. Her younger self is stylishly brought to life with Kate Elliott's striking appearance as a youthful entrepreneur who has embraced the liberation of gender roles and is swept up in the live-for-the-moment spirit of the war years.
Key episodes in Flora's life are acted out as music hall sketches cobbled together by her friends and business associates with plenty of bawdy humour, wonderfully inventive musical accompaniment and with some wickedly witty double-entendres.
The highly theatrical performance style is great fun but it distances the audience's emotional involvement with the characters, and while Flora's proto-feminist stance delivers a stinging indictment of male hypocrisy, she has little to say on the contemporary debate about whether the commercialisation of sex is empowering or degrading for women.
The large cast is brilliantly kitted out in Elizabeth Whiting's costumes, with Fraser Brown and Kevin Keys ably representing the moral bankruptcy of the establishment, while Joseph Wycoff is a convincingly suave naval lieutenant and Kip Chapman's flamboyant exuberance often places him in danger of stealing the show.
What: Famous Flora
Where: The White House, 371 Queen St, to November 29