I was pleased to have the opportunity to see this production, as it had been one of the shows on my Edinburgh Fringe wish list that I hadn't managed to fit in. In many ways it is the ideal fringe production – one performer, an economical set and an iconic figure as its subject matter. My first impression was that the intimacy of a fringe venue might be more suited to this sort of confessional monologue than the cavernous auditorium of Greenwich Theatre. However, Lizzie Wort's superlative performance as Marilyn engages the audience from the first moment and draws one into the claustrophobia of the room in which she is destined to spend her final night.
The flip side of a play about such a legendary figure is that her story has been told so often that there seems to be little new to add to the myths and conspiracy theories that have proliferated since her death. Writer/director Elton Townend Jones approaches this problem from an acute angle, taking a clear view that Marilyn's death was no more sinister than the result of a deeply stressed woman with sleep deprivation (among numerous other health problems) accidentally taking more than the recommended dose of tablets.
It is equally clear that this is really the story of Norma Jeane Mortensen, an actress known more for creating a character called Marilyn Monroe, than for any of the roles she played under the latter name. Wort captures wonderfully the helplessness of a vulnerable woman struggling with the pressure of sustaining a role on and off screen that she had long lost any control of to Fox Studios, the media and the public. The script and Wort's performance conveys this with a grim humour - "Being that woman, in that dress, with those tits, was my job".
The production depicts Monroe as the ultimate example of the objectification of women – something to be coveted and conquered, but never understood or loved as an actual person. The array of famous suitors, successful or otherwise – including the Kennedys, Yves Montand, Arthur Miller, Joe Di Maggio, Groucho Marx and Joan Crawford – peppers the script with celebrity gossip and anecdote that lends an air of Hollywood Babylon to the proceedings. Her recollection of auditioning for the ageing but still lecherous Marx – "being a finger buffet for an old man gets creepy really quickly" – simultaneously evokes laughter and empathy for the desperate situation in which she finds herself.
The play, however, does not rely solely on celebrity name-dropping. The "scabby skin", irritable bowel syndrome, heavy and painful periods and inability to reach orgasm that epitomised this all too human woman, and which had to be supressed each day in order that she could convincingly play the only role the public would ever accept her in, are all openly documented.
Wort's performance also goes well beyond mere caricature – for example, the breathiness of the on-screen Marilyn is rarely in evidence – and she seems to get under the skin of the character, showing us a real and troubled person very different from the woman standing on an air vent with her white dress billowing around her. It is a remarkable piece of acting that you shouldn't miss the chance to see while the show is still touring.
This is a simply stunning production and has to be one of the must see performances of the Festival. The opening scene is reminiscent of many a teenage girls bedroom with bits 'n' bobs scattered about. Then 'Marilyn' wakes and commences HER story, as opposed to what the press of the day was happily putting to print.
Peter Lawford, Bobby Kennedy, Clarke Gable, Liz Taylor, Lawrence Olivier, Joan Crawford, plus several other actors from Hollywood's supposed golden era get cited with varying degrees of warmth & coolness. Marilyn's commentary on the behind the scenes goings on is delivered with equal measure of sharp humour and misery. Marilyn's marriages to Arthur Miller, Joe DiMaggio, Jim Dougherty, their very different set-ups and her role within them play a focal part in this truly captivating enactment.
This is a wonderfully written piece of theatre, which is beautifully acted. Subtle use of lighting, unconscious pill popping, occasional interaction with the audience, all perfectly enhance the situation and draw you into Marilyn's world of confusion, girly fun, abuse and anguish. Anyone with an interest in celebrity, scandal or the life-story of one of a great movie icon (particularly teenagers with fame ambitions), should attend this show, plus those who enjoy a very well scripted production.
The anguish brought about by miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy bring a depth of poignancy rarely witnessed in theatrical creation but even that is left in the wake of the revelation of coping with abuse as a child, at this point the onlookers are stunned into total silence at this point and you could have heard a pin-drop as Marilyn re-lives her harrowing experience.
The hour and twenty minutes of this show passes in a flash, which is surely a good sign. A stellar solo performance of a fantastic piece of writing means this show is a standout production that is deserving of higher billing in this years Festival. Nicholas Parsons is on record as saying "this is the best thing at this year's Fringe", from what I've see so far I wholeheartedly agree with him.
There is something almost magical about the name Marilyn Monroe. Everybody has heard of the blonde bombshell actress and good time girl who had an affair with JFK and his brother (talk about keep it in the family) and then killed herself, or was possibly killed by the CIA, whilst still young and pretty. But what in reality do we actually know about one of the most photographed women in the world? Well, in "The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe" part of the ‘Icons’ season at the St James Studio, we finally get an opportunity to learn more about Norma Jean herself.
When entering the theatre, the first thing that strikes you is the believability of the set. An extremely untidy bedroom with clothes and personal possessions, including rather incongruously a picture of Abraham Lincoln, are strewn about the room and on the large bed, Marilyn (Lizzie Wort) is laying face down wearing a simple white dressing gown and holding a telephone receiver. She sits up and acknowledges the fact we are there, the all-seeing/all-judging audience that have shaped her life. And then she starts to talk to us, a final chance to tell her story. Exposing herself in ways that ‘the studio’ would definitely not approve, both Norma Jean and Marilyn inhabit the stage as the strands of their stories come out.
Norma Jean, the shy, vulnerable young girl who wanted to be loved by everyone from her Mother to all of her husbands. A girl with a steely and surprising determination to do whatever was necessary to help her mentally ill mother. She tells of her time with various foster parents and the horrifically moving story of her first sexual experience, something that seemed to have a major impact on her later life and her attitude to sexual relations. She tells us of her early experiences in Hollywood, and the reality of doing what was necessary to get even minor roles in films – the ‘casting couch’ being very alive and well at this time. We also learn of her devotion to those she loved, even putting her own career at risk by supporting her husband Arthur Miller when he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee to explain his ‘Marxist’ leanings.
Then there was Marilyn herself. The actress who was suffered from stage fright so badly she was in physical pain before going on set. Who earned a reputation for being difficult to work with and who married men that wanted the ‘sex goddess’ until the ink dried on the wedding certificate when they really wanted her all to themselves as the ‘little woman’ at home. There is a wonderful, if disturbing story of the iconic moment when an upward breeze escaped through a subway grate and made cinematic history. She talks about how she felt having her dress billow up and reveal her underwear, how many takes it took to get the shot, and the awful moment when in amongst the 4,000 strong crowd watching her, she saw her husband Jo DiMaggio and the disappointment in his eyes as he walked away from her ‘exhibitionism’ even though she was hating the experience and wishing it would end. All the time Marilyn/Norma Jean are telling their stories (and in many ways I think its important to split this complicated woman into separate entities) she keeps swallowing tablets from different bottles almost, it felt to me, as one would unconsciously eat popcorn whilst watching a movie. The ending, when it came was not a surprise – a bit like watching Titanic, you know she is going to die – but it is really poignant and I did have the familiar tear in my eye as the lights went out.
Writer/Director/Producer Elton Townend Jones has put together a very slick and well researched production. Although told from Marilyn’s perspective, and therefore certain events may have been the subject of a bit of selective memory, I really felt that I learned so much about the lady herself, both her history – which I was slightly aware of due to the show "Smash" – but also her real personality. The constant battle in her head between needing the attention and adoration of the audience and wanting to be a normal girl with a loving husband and stability in her life is played out for us to see with Lizzie (who really captures the essence and vulnerability of Marilyn beautifully) doing some scarily accurate impressions of people in her life.
The icons season has been truly fantastic so far and the spellbinding "The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe" is a fabulous addition to the set. There is nothing to criticise in this tour de force of writing, directing and acting that left me wondering what Marilyn would be like in 2015 if only Dr. Ralph Greenson, Marilyn’s psychiatrist had found her slightly earlier on the morning of On August 5, 1962. Sadly, we shall never know.
The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe is in fact remarkable. Lizzie Wort delivers a one-woman monologue that captivated me for its entirety, and judging by the response of the audience, I wasn’t the only one utterly entranced by this woman and her words. Sometimes confessional, sometimes seductive, and sometimes longing, Wort’s friendly heart-to-heart is delivered direct to ticket holders, obliterating the fourth wall. But rather than threaten with her forwardness, Marilyn gently hypnotises through the telling of her life, sharing losses suffered, triumphs gained, and sacrifices made.
Generally being quite wary of bold theatrical devices (they remind me of GCSE Drama class where rather than being bold they were just bad), my preconceptions disappeared within the first five minutes of listening to Wort. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, and even though the ‘likeness’ to Monroe may not have been complete in voice and look, the quality of the movie star was there: the vulnerability, the coy charisma, the unspoken demand, ‘watch me’.
The script was beautifully designed, treading neatly backwards through the passage-ways of Marilyn’s past, both public and private. Friends and lovers from Bobby Kennedy, to DiMaggio and Arthur Miller were reflected upon with love. Childhood neglect and pain, experienced both with family and in foster homes, was relayed to heart-breaking effect. Wort moved seamlessly between the fragile child, the giggly coquette and the complex woman in the dressing gown before us, popping pills and swilling drinks.
The author, like the performer, did not shy away from the darker parts of Monroe’s psyche, physiognomy or femininity. Dialogue was interspersed with the raw liquid of life, the blood of the womb, and the fluid of sex. Though literally dead our narrator was a symbol of sex and life in it most literal form; the woman. Whether or not this play revealed the reality behind the sex symbol of movie mythology, what it did reveal was nevertheless utterly convincing and moving.
On entering the Studio at St James we were welcomed by the familiar scent of Monroe’s signature scent, Chanel N°5. Enveloped in its tones before curtain, and taking in the music records strewn across the floor, the golden bedspread, the pills, the drink and general life-debris, I was taken by my associations to Las Vegas – not surprising maybe, since like Hollywood, it’s a beacon for manufactured pleasure. But wherever I was in my head, the locale of the stage was perfectly poised in its casual elegance for the awakening of the beautiful blond on the bed.
I’ve visited the Studio at St James theatre before, and this time especially I felt the performance belonged in the space. Anything larger and the intimate confession might have drowned in disproportion; anything smaller and it might have strained to fit. This was perfect; the audience tucked in neatly around the small stage – was it my imagination or did our bodies move closer as the evening went on? As time passed the ‘icon’ of Monroe was no longer at the forefront of my mind. I wasn’t watching a celebrity, I was watching a woman. As my friend said on leaving the theatre, ‘it’s just a woman in a dressing gown’, and essentially that’s what it is, what she was, a person – a broken person – and it’s beautiful.
As you walk into the Studio of St James' Theatre - the show has already started - a curvy blonde dressed in a white robe, is lying on an unkempt bed, face down, surrounded by discarded bras, drinks and a photo of President Lincoln.
"How long has she been like that?" I asked the bar tender. "15 minutes".
That in itself was impressive.
Lizzie Wort plays Marylyn in this one-woman show. And she is memorising. She doesn't try to be Marilyn - with the usual 'Sex goddess' persona – there’s little sign of the ‘dumb blonde’ portrayed in photographs through the theatre - and that's refreshing – we already know that girl. Ms. Wort carries the show. She is engaging, energetic and quite frankly, electric.
She spends the whole 85 minutes of the show talking about her life – occasionally moving positions on the small stage. She speaks directly to the audience – and they love her.
I'd be lying if I said I knew half the people she was referring to - but that didn't matter - here was Marilyn, or more accurately Norma Jean - showing us her true self - the nervous girl, wounded from an unstable childhood, desperate for love and admiration - instead disappointing everyone – including herself.
Throughout the show – Ms. Wort shows Marilyn as a person - tired, depressed, excitable and human. A young, pretty girl who was transformed by the Studios into the 'Sex Goddess' we all know as Ms Monroe - yet who was struggling to live up to the pressure - amongst the failed marriages and high expectation.
A theme of disappointment runs through the show – the disappointment of her husbands' who disapproved of her Marilyn persona; and disappointment of the studios for Marilyn fundamentally being Norma Jean.
Leaving her paranoid – and unable to trust anyone.
She downs pills without throughout the show. Ending the show by concluding that she is proud of herself and excited about the idea of life.
It is there, back in the same position as the start of the show that she lies down - presumably dead.
The audience erupted into applause, and Ms. Wort received a standing ovation.
In truth, the title is misleading – "The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe" is anything but unremarkable. It’s insightful, playful and dramatic – a play that resonates with you long after you leave the theatre – and one that adds a human-side to the much-portrayed Ms Monroe.
This writer will be looking out for Ms. Wort, and Mr Townend Jones’ involvement in future productions.
It's quite astonishing that Marilyn Monroe is still remembered, more that half a century after her death at the early age of 36. The term 'iconic' is often overused but in her case it is apposite; she really was one of the twentieth century's true icons.
Writer Elton Townend Jones was first captivated by Marilyn at the age of twelve, twenty years after her death. In this production he imagines that she is able to reflect on her life in that final hour before she slipped away. Working from as many sources as he can, Jones conjures up the shade of the 'real Marilyn', "a talented artist, a brilliant comedian, a frustrated intellectual, an attractive, loving woman afflicted with physical and mental conditions that cursed her working and emotional life."
Lizzie Wort's performance in this one-woman show brings to life Marilyn's vulnerability, her sensuality and her own confusion and indignation in her final hour on earth at how she has been so misunderstood. She knows that her same has become synonymous with prurient gossip; as she puts it, 'It was scandal that brought you here in the first place'. She confides in the audience telling us all about the high points and the low points of her relationships with Bobby and Jack Kennedy, her turbulent marriages to Arthur Miller and Joe Demagio; her miscarriages, her times on the sets of her best known movies - good and bad - and how she was abused by a family friend as an eight-year-old.
There are some memorable lines in this bittersweet script; my favourite is her bitter observation that in Some Like it Hot she 'played a blonde so dumb she mistook Tony Curtis for a chick'. As she talks, she constantly swallows pills, and intersperses her bright observations with moments of indecision and confusion. Marilyn's love of life and attractiveness comes through clearly in this spellbinding performance and tight script, but we know it isn't going to end well. This strong performance makes you care so much that you want to shout out, tell her to throw the pills away, and go to the beach. Sadly, she didn't.
Marilyn Monroe's life and career still fascinate more than fifty years after her death. After carrying out detailed research, writer and director Elton Townend Jones takes a leap of imagination to speculate on the thoughts and emotions that might have been thrashing around in her head in her bedroom in the final hour of her life.
For an actress to take on this role, it is a supreme challenge. Lizzie Wort gives an outstanding and convincing performance. She has such stage presence; we follow every word and gesture that reveals the complexity of Monroe's personality. Monroe was much more than a dumb blond. She was an astute, ambitious woman with a sharp sense of humour but there was a basic vulnerability in her persona and a crushing need for real companionship and reassurance. The tragedy of her life was that she was alone at the end and dependent on drugs and alcohol to get through the days and nights.
In the first half of the play, there is plenty of name-dropping, the Kennedy's, Hollywood directors and fellow stars of the studio system. The two miscarriages she suffered and the collapse of her marriage to the novelist Arthur Miller were traumatic events, and, being in the public spotlight, so much worse. The second half of the play delves more darkly and deeply into the characters and shocking events that shaped her life as a young child through to her first marriage aged sixteen.
Dyad Productions have now established a reputation for staging quality theatre which focusses on individual personalities in a fresh and compelling way. This latest production maintains the high standard the company have set for themselves.
Dyad Productions return with another thought-provoking piece of theatre. It would be easy to focus on the tabloid fodder she provided; the marriages, the affairs, the way she died. This isn't just a stage version of 'Candle In The Wind', it provides possible answers and shines new light on her issues. The search for love she craved due to a non-existent father, a dysfunctional mother, a sufferer of child abuse which may have caused a life of severe gynaecological issues and, dare we say of a sex goddess, understandable frigidness. Her coping mechanism – pill popping – which unremarkably probably killed her.
Fifty years after the death of Marilyn Monroe and public fascination with her is as strong as ever. Only a fortnight ago another Monroe story found its way into the newspapers - Marilyn phoned Jackie Kennedy to confess her affair with JFK, apparently. Media scrutiny plagued the starlet during her life and refuses to dissipate after her death. The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe imagines her final hour in this world, reflecting on 'the real Monroe' - her life, loves, childhood and the extraordinary creation of a star.
Lizzie Wort gives a fantastic performance as Monroe, weaving the intricacies of her personality together magnificently: her intelligence, strength and pragmatism balanced with the exhaustion of being the subject of constant criticism, rumours and an image that she couldn't shake. The stuttering and constant pill-popping combine with a clothes strewn set to portray the mental strain of that final period of her life and remind us of the tragic end awaiting her. Elton Townend Jones has produced a very thought provoking and thoroughly researched production, one that successfully challenges the common perception of Marilyn, so heavily shaped by the media, and educates them on the depth to her character - her avid quest to educate herself, and her own concern with the image Fox had created for her. At one point the character reflects on her husband's disappointment with her, there was a gap between who they thought they had married and who she turned out to be, 'they couldn't see past the definitive Monroe', she muses. This production will make you realise that perhaps you couldn't either.
The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe is a great production: well written and well-acted. It is an absolute must for anyone interested in Monroe and for the uninitiated - not only for the production quality, but for the moment of realization you feel at the end when you recognise how easily we accept the media's portrayal of another human being and how wrong or unfair that could be.
"Blonde and beautiful Marilyn Monroe, a glamorous symbol of the gay, exciting life of Hollywood, died tragically Sunday. Her body was found nude in bed, a probable suicide. She was 36. The star clutched a telephone in one hand. An empty bottle of sleeping pills was nearby". - The Associated Press, August 5, 1962.
This media report describes the basic facts of Marilyn's sudden death; its graphic image is the starting point of Elton Townend Jones' powerful portrait of the actress.
The stage set is her bedroom – Marilyn dressed in a bathrobe is sprawled face down on the bed; a pile of books (Joyce, Miller, Becket, Keats), bottles of pills, clothes and shoes are strewn over the floor. The phone rings and Marilyn is startled "awake" to find an audience of fans and admirers waiting to hear her final story of a remarkable life and tragically early death. The soft, lapping of waves can be heard as she describes her love of the ocean and wonders whether she should go down to the beach.
From the moment she rolls out of bed, Lizzie Wort personifies the blonde and beautiful Marilyn: sparkling eyes, husky voice, bubbly charm, girlish giggles. But as the stories unfold, she reveals how vulnerable and lonely she now is and a bitter tone masks the laughter.
In a pacy stream of consciousness, she shares a series of memories going back in time from Marilyn the sex goddess to the young, naïve Norma Jeane: marriages, miscarriages and affairs ("other people's husbands"), the pressure of the movie set, ("I don't choose to be late, stuff happens"), fractured family life, dreams and nightmares of childhood.
We watch and listen as Marilyn paces up and down like a lion in a cage. She pops a pill every few minutes, chews gum, sits, stands, fiddles with her dressing gown belt, (to the point of being rather distracting). Anxious, impatient, she waits for Robert Kennedy to return her call, jumping if the phone rings. Her mood swings up and down, infectiously joyful to dark despair.
DiMaggio, Miller, Wilder, Strasberg, Liz Taylor, Huston, Montand, Gable, Olivier, here is all the off stage gossip, loves, hates, rivalry, rejection, the gloss and glamour of Hollywood. Here on stage is her entire autobiography presented as an 85 minute play; a tightly crafted, intimate and poetic monologue to reach the essential heart of the play's title, her unremarkable death.
What a dazzling performance we are treated to! Lizzie Wort captures both the agony and the ecstasy of Marilyn's turbulent life, from superstar fame to lonely death, with passion and fizzing pizzazz.
The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe is part of the Icons Season at St James Theatre, with unusual tellings of the personal lives and careers of stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Dylan Thomas, Bette Davis, Richard Burton and of course, Marilyn herself. Plays and films allow contrasting looks at the stars in their finest moments, against imaginings of their personal struggles.
This is a story that writer/director Elton Townend Jones has wanted to put on for many years, a refreshingly bleak presentation of the last hour and a half of Marilyn Monroe’s life. It is a stark portrayal of her mental unravelling as she recounts the seminal moments of her life and people she has encountered – friends, lovers, family, Hollywood and the press. It depicts the emotional repercussions of insecurity, abandonment and abuse with care and sensitivity, reflecting Jones’ reverence for Monroe.
Lead Lizzie Wort carries the one-woman show with great endurance. Wort states that she has done her best not to over-research Monroe, so that she could create a human being rather than caricaturing her accent and mannerisms. She wanted to be able to inject something of herself into the character to open up interpretation of the events of her life and to explore a different side of the woman. In only a robe, dishevelled hair, and minimal make-up, this emotional expression is allowed central focus.
The play is set in Monroe’s boudoir: with a gold bedspread and autumnal lighting, this creates a sense of glamour fading into a desolate winter, a manifestation of her superficially beautiful yet isolated and psychologically imprisoned state. With the intimate invasion of her bedroom the audience takes on the role of the pestering press. They are responsible for the very thing that led to her final state, a demand to know her, to see her, to dismantle her.
The play portrays a rarely seen image of the alluring star as she dwindles into self-exploration and mental instability. Beneath it all, the question of what society does to its young stars cannot be ignored. While this emotional breakdown is fictional, the facts of Monroe’s untimely demise and decent into dependency, anxiety and depression show how easy it is to lose a shining star when they are forced to carry the unreasonable expectations of the cult of celebrity worship and its pernicious adoration.
Elton Townend Jones' startling, sensual, sarcastic investigation into the secret insecurities of a star and sex icon makes you race to keep up. I suspect (from one audience member's loud laughs) that it includes more comic nuances and name-dropping than those unfamiliar with the details of Monroe's life can easily appreciate. But it's when it reaches its darkest points that it is most successful. In this one-woman confessional, Lizzie Wort gives it her all, every movement full of energy. Her wide smiles and exuberant tones are characteristically stoic, even in outbursts of anger and grief. It's a discomfiting dynamic, distracting from the atmosphere of approaching tragedy that the clothes-strewn stage and increasing fidgeting with pills make eerily apparent. Anything but unremarkable.
More than fifty years on from her untimely demise a certain amount of fascination, intrigue and mystery still surrounds the death of Marilyn Monroe. This one woman play from Dyad productions written by Elton Townend Jones and featuring an outstanding performance by Lizzie Wort as the screen goddess deals with the thoughts which may have plagued Marilyn as she slipped toward her death. There is a consistent but haphazard-or is it? –popping of pills as well as the incessant ringing telephone which could be symbolic of death calling ort a metaphor for an alarm bell telling her to stop. Wisely the play treats these factors as inconsequential as many before have tried to solve the riddle of Marilyn's death and it seems now with all other major participants also dead these questions will never be satisfactorily answered.
When we first encounter Marilyn she is already sprawled out on what is soon to be her deathbed. The phone rings and she tries to establish whether it is Peter Lawford –who was possibly the last person to speak to her- but unable to make out who is there she turns to us, the audience, then elaborates on details of her life; some familiar, others less so. Recounting encounters with such luminaries as Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, John Huston, Montgomery Clift and Laurence Olivier and a fascinating insight into her relationships with them. The Kennedy's of course getting a mention with Bobby rather than Jack receiving the bulk of her affectionate recounting.
Husbands Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio are opened up to scrutiny with her feeling Miller let her down from the earliest days of their marriage whilst DiMaggio was withdrawn and sullen, hating her career. First-and lesser known- husband James Dougherty also gets a mention and as a marriage of convenience she doesn't elaborate or afford him much affection.
Battles with her studio 20th Century Fox seem to rankle the most and we are constantly reminded how she is a mere mortal and not the goddess they try to sell her as. Finding it hard to live up to her constructed image is what she feels is eating away at her very soul but seems to neglect that fame is something she sought out more than willingly and extremely eagerly. It is harder to find fame than it is to avoid it, so are her problems ultimately really of her own doing? Again this is a question wisely left unanswered.
Wort's performance is what really carries this production. An excellent script allows her to characterise Marilyn rather than impersonate her. As such at the times when she shifts from Norma Jeane-or 'Noodle'- into quintessential Marilyn mode then we are aware of the dichotomy tearing at the heart of the legend.Whilst we will never be totally aware of the events of that hot August night in 1962 this show provides some clarity to the psychological make up of the troubled woman at the centre of the mystery. This is an impressive outing and one seriously worth your time.
I keep encountering Marilyn Monroe. I finished Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates and found a second-hand copy of a Monroe biography in a bookshop; I saw Dickie Beau's beautiful reconstruction of her in Blackouts at Soho Theatre; I watched Some Like It Hot with my mother. So as I flipped through the Fringe programme lackadaisically and spotted Dyad Productions' The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe, I realised what God was trying to tell me: I am destined to become the next Marilyn Monroe. OK, not really, but it did make me eager to see the show. I reviewed Dyad Productions' Female Gothic at the Fringe last year and I continue to find them an intriguing, exciting and dedicated theatre company. But I also felt alarmed. Marilyn Monroe was and is a construction, a Barbie doll. There's something risky and a little fetishistic about reconstructing a construction 50 years after it collapsed, and even Monroe's infamous terrors and manic episodes have become part of the Marilyn shtick. Her legacy is as much about burst capillaries and biannual overdoses as it is her sex appeal and screen presence. Can anybody mimic such a quintessential and ubiquitous figure of Americana successfully? Or will it always seem pantomimic? Lizzie Wort, who takes on the role of Monroe, gives a capable, assured, consistent performance that avoids sensationalism and needless cliche. As the audience crowd into the venue, we enter Marilyn's soon-to-be death chamber – her Hollywood bedroom. Clothes, pill bottles and books litter the floor. Wort is asleep on a plush bed, awakening as the show begins and greeting the audience in a breezy East Coast accent that is unmistakably Marilyn.
Certain moments of The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe are strikingly powerful: Marilyn's talk of her experience of child abuse is shocking, grotesque and yet oddly gorgeous in its presentation. The lighting and sound is ideal and complements Wort's stark confessional perfectly. The echoing noise of mysterious footsteps adds an element of dread and suggests murder, while the brash shriek of the telephone divides each part of the monologue before it gets turgid. The script is immaculate, evoking the humid bittersweet air of 1960s Los Angeles with a poetic grace. Factually, the confessional is incredibly accurate, and those uninitiated into Monroe's private life will discover a lot of truths about her relationships with the Kennedy brothers and Arthur Miller. As a performance, The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe is a triumphantly executed one-woman show: a remarkable achievement for Dyad Productions.
Working backwards from her fatal overdose Marilyn's monologue takes in her various marriages, her addictions, her ambitions and aspirations. It paints a human portrait of someone consumed by an industry, a smart, sensitive woman who other people kept putting in boxes: sex bomb, dumb blonde, unreliable starlet. The narrative tracks back to her childhood, to the years in which she was still Norma Jean, to the abuses and betrayals she suffered at the hands of the various adults in her life.
Writer and director Elton Townend Jones' well-constructed text and Wort's engaging, measured performance ensure the piece avoids an excess of sentiment and holds the attention throughout. It's far brighter and sharper than might be expected given the premise and it handles the darker moments of Marilyn's life with intelligence and compassion.
A good piece of theatre, like a good Hollywood movie, can take a piece of fiction and make it seem real, if only for the time you are watching. Marilyn Monroe's death, as her life has become so famous that even its truth, complete with CIA conspiracies, reads like a work of fiction. What Dyad Productions have managed to do is make a work of sheer unadulterated fiction seem more real, than much of the 'truth' surrounding her death.
The set itself is an experiment in minimalism; Marilyn's bed, the shopping bags, and pill bottles, strewn around The Playhouse studio theatre on Thursday night leave Lizzie Wort's Marilyn nowhere to hide. This is the woman herself, behind the make up, the dresses, the bright lights. It feels intimate without being intrusive, that said any study of the life (or death) of the world's most famous sex goddess is going to seem voyeuristic.
The flawless dialogue, with all credit to writer and director Elton Townend Jones stops it being too close for comfort, as does Lizzie Wort's ability to hold the audiences attention as she tells Monroe's story. From her Mother, to Miller and DiMaggio and back. We see Marilyn as movie star, Marilyn as wife, Marilyn as orphan, but most importantly Marilyn as the frustrated brains behind the world famous boobs.
As the pills take hold, never once does the show veer into sensationalist. Wort's portrayal of the hysteria and fatigue are acted with equal parts sensitivity and grit, making this an intelligent look at the probable final hours before the unremarkable death, of such a remarkable woman.
Monroe's early death in 1962 spawned numerous conspiracy theories. Writer Elton Townend Jones ignores these and bases his work on the premise that her death was just a tragic accident.
He has Monroe, in her final hours, talking to the audience and reflecting on her life, which is told backwards in time. This way Jones hopes to reveal the real person behind the glamorous star – the noodle, as she called herself, rather than the studio-created sex symbol.
Starting with her friendships with the Kennedys, she related life with her three husbands, her various affairs and being groomed by and chained to Fox studios. Behind the dumb blonde image lay a talented, frustrated artist afflicted with physical and mental problems – a loving person constantly searching for love and security.
Her early years made the biggest impact – illegitimate, mother and grandmother in mental institutions, life in an orphanage and foster homes. The most powerful and moving scene concerned being raped when she was eight years old – an experience that physically and emotionally scarred her.
Lizzie Wort’s solo performance was a stunning tour de force that beautifully captured the essence of Monroe.
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