Marilyn. A name that needs no introduction. A ‘cultural icon’ and world-famous actor whose life grew intertwined with the rich and powerful in Hollywood and beyond. A troubled individual whose death by barbiturate overdose at the age of just 36 brought a tragic close to a life story that reads like a rollercoaster of highs and lows, from the trauma of her early years to her stratospheric rise to movie stardom and all that came in between.
Breakthrough Theatre, a recently-formed Birmingham-based theatre company, brought ‘Marilyn’ to the Casa Theatre on 25th and 26th January to kick off their national tour following a successful first run in 2018. Billed as a ‘must for Marilyn fans’, LVL caught the Saturday showing to find out more about this twentieth century icon. Here’s what went down…
‘Marilyn’ is a one-woman play directed by James Williams and written by and starring Danielle J Gearing, who played the title role alone on stage, captivating her audience – no mean feat on this drizzly cold Saturday evening at the Casa – and transporting us to what appeared to be a kind of dressing room from the 1950s, as she chatted away like we were a bunch of old pals.
The intimacy of the Casa space made an ideal location for the Liverpool debut of this ‘in-depth look behind the public persona’ of Marilyn Monroe. With a simple set consisting of a plush red velvet couch, vanity table and those infamous dresses that helped propel her to stardom, Marilyn changes in and out of her outfits, tops up her makeup, pours herself the occasional tipple and then, lounging across the sofa in a pink fluffy dressing gown, she reveals to us she is dead and apparently in limbo.
Once sitting comfortably, Marilyn begins her story. She talks about her troubled and abusive early childhood and the lure of the silver screen, the cinema being a refuge where she would sit as a young girl for whole days absorbing the glamorous Hollywood world she yearned to be a part of; how she came to choose the name Marilyn Monroe, the stories behind some of her most iconic images; her marriages, particularly to baseball star Joe DiMaggio and playwrite Arthur Miller; and her dalliances with the rich and famous, including one memorable and amusing scene where she vividly relates an encounter with then President John F. Kennedy.
It was through the discussion of her marriages that the audience comes to appreciate, perhaps, the extent to which Marilyn struggled to find a sense of self-worth outside of her sexual allure and the attention she received by men; a double-edged sword that on the one hand precipitated her rise to stardom but could also be said to have contributed to her deep unhappiness, futilely hoping for a ‘saviour’, ‘hero’ or someone to ‘complete her’. Instead she was mistreated, manipulated and misunderstood.
Breakthrough Theatre state in their programme that, ‘Marilyn Monroe was so much more than just the woman in the white dress, so much more than her sex symbol persona, and by the end of the play we hope you see that too’. I have to admit I’m not exactly a fan of Marilyn Monroe and haven’t seen any of her films, only knowing of that public persona as portrayed in mainstream popular culture. In offering insight into her hidden life, and through having ‘Marilyn’ tell us that story herself, I felt like I had come to know more of the challenges she faced – the infamous scene with the white dress and the subway fan takes on a whole different meaning when you find out what actually happened during filming, for example.
There were so many aspects of her life revealed in this production that took me by surprise, and by the end of the show I had a newfound sympathy for Marilyn, trying as she was to forge her own path in a world that sought to circumscribe her – on the face of it she was hugely successful, but behind the scenes struggled with many of the same challenges and traumas that plenty of women face up to this day. Touching on themes of domestic violence, mental illness, and exposing the grim sexist undercurrent of Hollywood glitz, there is much to offer from Breakthrough Theatre’s ‘Marilyn’. Definitely worth checking out – whether you’re a fan of hers or not!
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Images Courtesy of Breakthrough Theatre and the Casa Theatre