Premiering at The Blue Orange Theatre, Darren Haywood’s play, The Late Marilyn Monroe, tells the tale of the famous blonde bombshell’s untimely death in 1962. Arguably one of the world’s favourite film stars, Monroe’s shock demise at 36 combined with her high octane life (rumoured to include an affair with the president) immortalised her celebrity.
Like most, I’m familiar with Monroe’s image, life and the conspiracies around her death but The Late Marilyn Monroe and Taking Chances theatre group brought to voyeuristically vivid life Haywood’s version of her last hours. The audience is forced to watch Monroe, played with breathless confidence by Tania Staite, alternately vulnerable and raging as she consumes the huge quantities of barbiturates that ultimately lead to her overdose.
Set in Monroe’s bedroom, emphasising the claustrophobic chaos, Monroe is visited only by her housekeeper, paid assistant / friend, and her doctor in her last day. The staging is effective, although the shabby set is an issue: it may seem like a quibble but it rankled with me. Marilyn Monroe would not have had (badly) whitewashed walls.
Mrs Murray, charmingly played by Ellie Darvill, provides motherly care and much needed comic relief. Monroe’s loneliness is magnified through the use of the telephone (both lifeline and torturer) to frame the story of her last hours while Pat and Ralph (Dru Stephenson and Martin Rossen, friend and doctor respectively) offer little other than a soundboard for Marilyn’s monologues: both are ultimately ineffectual counsellors, and the doctor character in particular feels like a plot device, giving Monroe more sedatives before rushing out to dinner.
Haywood is a self-proclaimed fan of Monroe and the depth of his knowledge (and reverence) is shown through his script. Officially Monroe committed suicide, but Haywood nods to the best known theories (such as ‘Bobby’s’ – Robert Kennedy’s – involvement in Monroe’s evident mental distress) throughout the play: intelligently weaving references to fact and mythology to leave the audience asking whether Monroe was delusional or if dark forces were really out to get her. After all, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you.
The many challenges that faced Norma Jeane are articulated clearly, if at times heavy-handedly. Her beginnings in an orphanage, a stint in a mental institute, two failed marriages, studio troubles, her ‘scandalous’ nude modelling past, her various affairs with stars such as Sinatra, her battles with drug addiction, ageing, plastic surgery, and her casting couch experiences are all alluded to. Monroe’s ‘suicide’ (although Haywood favours the more palatable accidental overdose narrative) makes sense to the audience: this was a very troubled woman.
Trying to include all of Monroe’s many issues though means that The Late Marilyn Monroe misses a trick: there’s modern meaning, as the promotion promised, particularly pertinent in the climate of Hollywood’s #MeToo Campaign, but it feels tokenist and unexplored.
To me though, it mattered little. The Late Marilyn Monroe is a well-written tragedy, it doesn’t need to be a cautionary tale for #MeToo. It’s a familiar tale that Haywood and Taking Chances bring fresh feeling to; you know that Monroe is going to die, but right till the end you can’t help hoping that Haywood might have rewritten history.
Birmingham based writer/actor, Darren Haywood, promises ‘this will not be the Marilyn you’ve seen before’, premiering his new production at the Great Hampton Street theatre with the Taking Chances theatre group.
Previously penning shows including Role Play, Head Girl and The Morning After – all produced by Taking Chances – Heywood has not shied away from the more subversive issues, even playing the title role in Taking Chances‘ production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Crescent Theatre back in 2011.
Monroe, arguably one of the world’s favourite film stars, died at just 36: her shock death combined with her high octane life (rumoured to include an affair with John F Kennedy) immortalised her celebrity, as well as creating a wealth of conspiracy theories. But despite the decades since her death in 1962 Monroe’s allure has persisted, even assisted by the mystery surrounding her premature demise.
The Late Marilyn Monroe presents the star’s final day, and an audience familiar only with Monroe’s glamorous persona may be surprised by the ‘reality’. Indeed the show’s promotion asks us ‘what really happened? And what was she like behind closed doors?’ But Haywood’s script seems certain to explore Monroe’s apparent battles with drug addiction, depression, and sexual exploitation, issues particularly pertinent in the climate of Hollywood’s #MeToo campaign.
And with such a well loved icon as the centre piece of the narrative, it will be interesting to see what fresh insight and modern meaning both Haywood and Taking Chances can bring to such a familiar tale.
Hot on the heels of their fifth studio album, After Laughter, Paramore play to a packed crowd at the Genting Arena, with only a handful of tickets left in the Gods of the 15,683 capacity venue. Not bad for a Sunday. Not bad for any day.
Paramore are back in Birmingham for one of only five dates on the UK leg of Tour Three, with support from Philadelphia’s mewithoutYou, before heading across the globe for gigs in Australia, New Zealand and South Asia.
And the line up looks strong, replete with Zac Farro (one of the original members who left the band in 2010) and three additional touring musicians making up the Tour Three ensemble. But an even more palpable strength tonight comes from the crowd.
Kicking off, quite literally (as Williams demonstrates her ability to boot you in the face, should she want too) with the first single from their last album – the poignantly penned ‘Hard Times’ – Paramore belt out a set of classic hits from their more rockier albums, alongside a smorgasbord of pop nuggets from After Laughter.
But even whilst delivering their earlier rock fuelled singles such as ‘Ignorance’ and ‘That’s What You Get’, there is a undeniably pop tinge to the Paramore on stage today, something a smattering of the near 16,000 strong crowd might have taken little getting used to. Although some things never change, and by the time one lucky audience member is brought on stage for ‘Misery Business’ the entire arena is joining in and singing along.
Paramore have both a loyal fan base and a chequered history, with the Hayley Williams fronted band changing its line up several times in recent years and steering through some publicly choppy waters. Williams is the one with the record deal, but the arguments over ownership and copyright have spilled off the stage and across the internet since Jeremy Davis first left the band in 2005.
Then there’s their move from rock, to pop rock, to pop, which seems to have been consolidated with Paramore’s latest LP. But the fevour of their fanbase has clearly mitigated any on stage issues or revolving door quabbles, as the energy that fills the Genting Arena tonight stands testament to the songwriting and success Paramore are responsible for.
Plus Hayley Williams is a ferocious front woman, exuding inexhaustible energy as she flits across the stage and talks, with some candour, to the Birmingham crowd. Not least about the “safe little place” she finds on stage.
And it can’t be easy to be in her shoes sometimes (especially whilst head high kicking themselves across a Sunday stage) but Paramore seem as confident as ever tonight – in both their new direction and in the army of fans that will seemingly follow them wherever they lead. Or to the Midlands, at least.
Stepping into Playback almost feels like the beginning of a Black Mirror episode; the silence is palpable in the dimly-lit space, as people sit before screens, each person plugged into the monitors, staring intently ahead.
The calm and quiet is a welcome distraction from the packed lower floor of mac, where people are continuously swarming around the open space; weirdly enough, even though the double doors to Playback are open, it feels like a safe haven, isolated from the rest of the arts centre.
The set-up is functional, yet quite captivating; minimalist structures are set up throughout the room that encase a screen to select films, a monitor to watch and a couple of pairs of headphones below. This could be quite a passive experience, one where you stumble in, take a quick look and exit to explore the rest of the gallery, yet each person who enters is memorised and instantly takes a seat in one of the stalls to begin.
A real highlight of the exhibition is the complete flexibility it offers. The interface is so simplistic you can easy browse comedy, drama, music, dance, drama or animation with the touch of a button. The idea that Playback brings the films to the audience, as opposed to the other way round, is an interesting format and is a smart way of getting the endevours of budding creatives out there.
Much of the work being displayed covers scenarios so far removed from the viewer that you’re able to gain a sobering, eye-opening insight. For example, Courtney Grigg’s 18, a POV documentary that explores Courtney’s journey through homelessness when she was eighteen. Or Rediat Abayneh’s 25 Days of My Life, which is dedicated to those ‘who lost their lives in search of better’ and charts her brief stay in the infamous refugee camp ‘The Jungle’ prior to her journey to England from Calais. These pieces draw you in immediately by conveying such emotion in a short time frame. I felt myself unintentionally breathing a small sigh of relief and gratitude when I read in the description below that despite the circumstances depicted in their work, they are now studying towards their chosen career, or are exploring another walk of life and have made it out of sombre situations.
I can say with complete honesty, there was not one single short I viewed that I didn’t appreciate in some way. Each work was enlightening and completely unique. In mainstream film I often feel like what I’m watching is just regurgitated with a different cast, location or a slight differentiation of a basic scenario. The sheer individuality of each piece presented at Playback took me by surprise; alongside thought-pieces and documentaries charting real life experiences, the exhibition was brimming with off-the-wall, abstract and bizarre concepts, which was so refreshing and showed the passion of hungry young filmmakers.
I felt this was especially reflected in Battle by Darnell Smart, which relied on mostly a non-verbal performance, mixed with sound effects to create distortion of the main character Deshawn. The minimalist setting and almost sterile visual at the end combined for a really effecting piece. Additionally, Bliss by Billy Floyd stuck in my memory long afterwards. No dialogue was needed, as the piece was carried by minimal sound effects and intense, non-verbal performances that used the same setting for each shot, just varying the content. Battle and Bliss left me genuinely excited for the work that future filmmakers will produce as the execution of these ideas was something I hadn’t witnessed before and really, this is what Playback is all about.
It would be near impossible to comment on all the content, with over 145 short films, ranging from 90 seconds to three minutes a piece, on show. If you do have the opportunity, give yourself a full day and head down to mac and see, or rather experience, for yourself – Playback is free to enter and in the arts centre’s First Floor Gallery until Wednesday 24 January 2018. I’m sure each individual will discover something different from the next and connect with the pieces in a completely unique way. Personally, I tend to gravitate towards drama, but the flexibility of Playback exposed me to a world of other possibilities; content that I would never have previously considered due to admittedly, my own ignorance or dismissal of genres that don’t seem instantly appealing.
I felt a particular highlight was the animation section and I’m so glad I allowed myself to be led by the exhibition, as there were some excellent pieces in there. Specifically, My Familiar by Leah Morris, an animation that blends live action scenes with animation to explore ‘the comforts of non-verbal communication’ in the face of isolation and loneliness. The piece is set against a minimalist, yet effecting score, and uses no verbal narrative within its series of vignettes, which works to astounding effect. So much so that halfway through I looked down to find myself with little marks imprinted into my palm where I’d be gripping the chord of the headphones, completely engrossed.
Or Meet Cute, another short that splices live action with animation and blurs the line of creation, production, fiction and reality – a fun and interesting piece by Chris Consentino. Adrift was also a highlight, a short sci-fi that ‘blends lo-fi animation, indie folk and quirky live action’ by Will Crerar, an aspiring screenwriter and director from Newcastle. The drama explores decision making through the protagonist, a teenage boy trapped in space, who is at the crossroads of change but hesitant to move forward. The setting and minimal, spoken-narrative deliver a point that is reflective of wider society in an extremely clever way.
After two hours of selecting films I was completely captivated by the exhibition’s documentaries and dramas and found the comedy section to be a welcome break, one that pulled me outside my head for a while. Some highlights were Contactless that deals with a scenario not as far removed from the future as it should be, set against the backdrop of Birmingham with a whacky, upbeat soundtrack that allows the comedic overtone to shine through but also elevates the distress and seriousness of the political message. The variation in styles was a joy to experience throughout all the genres, but in particular, in shorts such as Chops which is a beautifully stylised laugh-out-loud piece by Jac Clinch, and Slice by Hari Ramakrishnan, a dark satire exploring the graduate experience with great visuals and perfectly delivered narrative by Marie Hamilton, paired with an eerily perfect performance by Dorothy Collins.
The final highlight was All That Is by Camille Summers Valli and Wessie Du Toit, a beautifully shot drama-documentary that intimately explores ‘love and its role in the lives of five individuals’, through snapshots in a stunning sepia quality. As the short eloquently states “any experience is good, to talk about it is better” – which I feel encompasses the whole event perfectly.
There were 145 narratives for the audience to explore in Playback and each has taken a personal experience, feeling, emotion or thought and turned it into a work of art. Most of the work can be found through the Random Acts website, but actually attending the exhibition adds so much more to the experience, as you’re able to fully submerge yourself amongst the work in the peaceful atmosphere that the mac has created.
Events such as Playback are vital in the medium of film, creating exposure for young creative, as well as giving them a platform and voice to address current issues and situations. We just need to be ready to listen.
I step into the O2 Academy in Birmingham, a venue that has been a staple in my perusal of live music for over a decade, and feel apprehension for the first time.
I am still accustomed to being below the average age of attendees at gigs. Tonight, it is clear I am not. The hum of teenage excitement is all too familiar to me, except this time I am not part of it. College kids glug double pints of Somersby’s. Hives of young girls are buzzing around the venue, a swarm of double dyed-denim, glitter eyes, high-waisted jeans, vintage windbreakers and bleached buzzcuts. They look fantastic, and I have no doubt they are about to have the time of their lives tonight watching one of the fastest rising bands in the UK, The Hunna.
Opening this evening are Night Riots, who feed off the energy radiating around the hall to put in a blistering performance, complete with a mini LED display at the start of the set.
They are so good it is hard to believe they are supporting a gig of this size rather than filling the venue themselves. Night Riots effectively combine chugging riffs reminiscent of early emo bands such as Jimmy Eat World with the flamboyant sensibilities of new wave, and it’s a concoction fit for tonight’s crowd.
Frontman, Travis Hawley, strolls whimsically across the speakers throughout, shirt buttoned down past Simon Cowell-level, but not quite Morrissey-level.
Their standout track is ‘Spiders’ – one of the strongest songs I hear all evening – which serves to show the band’s identity beyond their influences. The lo-fi drums, building anthemic verses and a smooth slide into delicate synth work, demonstrate the finesse that Night Riots possess. They return to UK shores from their native California in just a few short months and I will certainly be in attendance.
Next are Coasts, providing a tighter, crisper sound than their fellow support act, if perhaps lacking in originality. Compared to the more grandiose Night Riots, Coasts feel minimal in the space they occupy, their strength lying in the clarity of their layered tracks. At no point in their set does any instrument bleed into the other. The slightest pluck of the guitar can be heard against the gentlest beat, which is testament to their skill as musicians.
After ploughing through a set consisting of pleasant, albeit forgettable dream pop, they end with ‘Oceans’ to a big cheer. Undeniably their most immediate and memorable moment of the night, it feels unfortunate that diversity is lacking in the rest of their catalogue. If they are capable of writing songs as impactful as ‘Oceans’ however, I remain hopeful that Coasts can expand on their sound with new and more unique ideas in the future.
In contrast, it seems that The Hunna have made a breakthrough in establishing their identity. Shrouded by dim strobes of magenta and indigo, they turn up with every intention of causing a frenzy. What follows is a 45 minute onslaught of menacing indie rock aimed squarely at your adrenaline reserves, complete with choruses containing clear ambition for chart success.
Highlights include early favourite ‘She’s Casual’, sung mainly by the crowd, current Radio 1 favourite ‘Flickin’ Your Hair’, and new song ‘Dare’, which perfectly demonstrates the band’s development in their songwriting. While the songs from their debut album, 100, are solid stabs at straight-up garage rock made popular in the Noughties, ‘Dare’ indicates that The Hunna are ready for bigger things.
Making their way back on the stage in coordinated jackets to spell out the song title, The Hunna launch into a dirty, distorted riff. The direct lyrics assert their authority to a lover, rather than wondering out loud if she cares about their existence (see ‘Still Got Blood’, ‘You Don’t Want It With Me’) and are imbued with a certain confidence that matches the growth the band have experienced in just two years. As they play the last notes of fan favourite ‘Bonfire’ the last remnants of cerise confetti float over a crowd still hungry for more, and I make my exit with every faith that 2018 belongs to The Hunna.
As impressed as I am with the three bands, the hero of the night is the crowd. I love young crowds, not for their ‘energy’ (being 24, I can’t claim I’m exactly tired yet) but for their commitment to having a good time. They aren’t jaded or overly educated in what makes good music to stop them from enjoying themselves to the fullest. They are a generation raised on a diet of too-cool-for-school trap beats and icy pop – Drake, Post Malone and Taylor Swift are played during intervals – but their appetite for indie coexists.
While applause and tacit appreciation is something I come to expect from crowds these days, tonight is all about festival-level screaming, stomping until your Vans are worn down from the sole, and climbing atop the shoulders of the first strapping young man you can find. And I can’t ask for anything better.
The Hunna @ O2 Academy 11.01.18 / Phil Drury – Birmingham Review