Reviews: Marilyn & Letters From America

Marilyn, Citizens, Glasgow

&

Letters From America, Dundee Rep

Reviewed by Mark Brown

A new play about Marilyn Monroe is, simultaneously, pregnant with possibilities and fraught with dangers. On the one hand, the enduring appeal of this most tragic of superstars all but ensures writer Sue Glover and the co-producers (Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre and Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum) full houses. On the other, taking up the soaring, agonisingly fractured and desperately short life story of a modern icon leads to high expectations.

   Glover’s play, entitled simply Marilyn (and staged by former Traverse Theatre artistic director Philip Howard), views Monroe through the prism of her desperate time (in 1960, two years before her death) working on the ill-fated movie Let’s Make Love, in which she co-starred with another global idol, French actor and chanteur Yves Montand. Set in Monroe’s Beverly Hills hotel room, this all-female drama creates a promising triangle of Monroe (Frances Thorburn), Montand’s wife, the Oscar-winning French actress Simone Signoret (Dominique Hollier) and Patti (Pauline Knowles), a Hollywood hair colourist who knows Monroe’s life and work as well as she knows a bottle of peroxide. 

   Sadly – despite decent performances all round and a typically bold and stylish set by flamboyant designer Kenny Miller – the piece fails to deliver on its promise. In act one we are given brief insights into the more interesting aspects of Monroe’s personality (such as her defence of her husband, Arthur Miller, against McCarthyism), as well as her burgeoning self-doubt and increasing reliance on drugs and alcohol. In act two, however, the play really comes apart, descending into a stereotypical “catfight” between Signoret and Monroe (caused by the latter’s affair with Montand) which is so blunt, and simply badly written, as to be almost an affront to feminism.

   There is more subtlety on display in Letters To America, the latest touring programme from Dundee-based Scottish Dance Theatre. A two-part presentation, comprised of works entitled ‘Lay Me Down Safe’ (choreographed by Kate Weare) and ‘Khaos’ (by Benjamin Levy), it is a pretty imbalanced evening of dance; it might be stretching things to propose that you leave at the interval, but if you do so, you are likely to feel more satisfied.

   Weare’s piece is a real joy. Danced to a wonderfully eclectic, yet truly coherent soundtrack – which includes Nouvelle Vague’s glorious cover version of the Dead Kennedys classic ‘Too Drunk To Fuck’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Sisters Of Mercy’ – it is, by turns, delightfully humorous, enticingly erotic and poignantly painful.

   Gorgeously stylish in movement, set and lighting, it brings to the fore Weare’s beautiful understanding of the power of physical tension to convey love and sexuality, and also strife and anguish. That the choreographer’s purpose is conveyed with such affecting sincerity is testimony to the superb dancers and the patent commitment that they feel for the work.

   The same cannot be said for Levy’s ‘Khaos’ (the title is unintentionally appropriate). A pseudo sci-fi mess of seemingly extra-terrestrial inflatable objects, most of its myriad of images (which includes a woman disappearing into something which looks like massive white amoeba) collapse into clumsiness.

Marilyn is at the Citizens, Glasgow until March 12; then playing the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, March 15 to April 2.

Letters From America (Dundee run ended) tours until May 24. For further information visit: www.scottishdancetheatre.com

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 27 2011

© Mark Brown

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