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.
For more on The Late Marilyn Monroe, visit www.facebook.com/events/140065786793449
For more from Taking Chances, visit www.facebook.com/TakingChancesTheatre
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