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.
January 1st… no finer day to cross off the calendar. But as the world crawls out of bed with hangovers and resolutions, Birmingham’s events diary looks forward to a pretty vibrant January. It seems the ‘quiet month’ is not so dormant this year. Which is a good thing, right? I mean, who needs to stay in and save money? Food and heating are for quitters.
For more film, mac hosts Playback from 7th to 24th Jan – a touring and ‘interactive exhibition’ of over 200 short films from ‘krumping and parkour dance shorts, to an animated tale of teenage love that unearths our desire to be as cool as the zines we read’. Held in the arts centre’s First Floor Gallery, with free admission, Playback carries a Tubbs and Edward local angle too, as ‘some of the films were originally made in and around Birmingham, where young people based in the Midlands were given the support and funding to create a short film.’
And with Louisa Ellis (The Wilderness), Mark Walsh (Opus Restaurant), Luke Tipping and Leo Kattou (Simpsons) and Olivier Briault (The Edgbaston Boutique Hotel) all chipping in a course, it should do just that. Although, the non-fixed donation approach is gratefully received in mid January.
Now if I can just find an energy provider with the same approach…
In memoriam of her paternal auntie and namesake, Lady Gaga’s latest song, album and tour appear as personal an affair as you can offer when delivering it to millions of strangers. A curious dichotomy, but one Birmingham will get to see on stage first as the Live Nation machine sets down in our city before anywhere else in the UK. Kudos.
And with tickets being transferred from the previous dates in October 2017, it’s fair to say there may be a bit of a bun fight to get in to these gigs. No doubt it’ll be worth a few scuffed elbows though, but even if ‘I’m never going to know you now, I’m gonna love you any how’. OX Joanne.
Tickets for the originally scheduled Lada Gaga shows at the Genting Arena (12th Oct ’17) at Arena Birmingham (15th Oct ’17) can be transferred to the new dates. According to the venues’ websites, ‘if you cannot make the new date, refunds can be obtained at your point of purchase for a limited period’.**
Playback @ mac 7th to 24th Jan
For more on any of the events listed here, click on the highlighted hyperlink.
Ed King is Editor-in-Chief of Review Publishing, which issues both the Birmingham Review and Birmingham Preview titles.