Review: All About Marilyn, by Lorena Cenci, Jerwood DanceHouse

Review: All About Marilyn, by Lorena Cenci, 4th Wall Productions. Jerwood DanceHouse until Saturday October 6.

Early in 1961, sometime between the completion of The Misfits and starting work on the unfinished and prophetically titled Something’s Got To Give, Marilyn Monroe was admitted to the Payne Whitney mental hospital in New York.

It’s an episode which very few people know anything about. She was photographed arriving and she was photographed leaving on the arm of ex-husband Joe DiMaggio but nothing is known about the weeks inbetween.

Ipswich-based writer Lorena Cenci uses this crisis point in Marilyn’s life as a springboard to explore exactly who was Marilyn Monroe.

How did her past, her fears, her demons, her loves, desires and ambitions combine to create this luminous star of the big screen. She remains, 50 years after her death, one of the most recognisable faces on earth.

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The play begins at the end with Martin Leigh as Marilyn’s acting coach Lee Strasbourg delivering a moving eulogy at her funeral. The action then jumps back a year to her admittance to the hospital.

Cenci cleverly uses Marilyn’s condition to create two alternate selves – a young Norma Jean and her Hollywood alter ego, her public face, the imaginatively named Zelda Zonk.

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Allowing the three Marilyns to talk to one another allows the play to deliver a lot of information about Monroe’s life as well as her dreams and her fears. Above all Marilyn wanted to be taken seriously as an actress.

Appearances by Di Maggio and Arthur Miller give some clues about how Hollywood clashed with her dreams of domestic tranquillity. Miller also suggests that the Strasbourgs weren’t always a benign influence.

Creating a play about a hugely recognisable figure is no easy task. Playing an icon is even more difficult. The temptation is to play the public face rather create a believable three dimensional character. Sian Naylor who plays the ‘real’ Marilyn is to be congratulated for getting away from the airhead image and putting across some of the anguish she must have experienced during her hospital stay.

Molly Scurrell as Norma Jean and Jodi Lloyd as Zelda Zonk had a harder task because as figments of Marilyn’s tortured psyche they had less opportunity to flesh out their roles.

Helen Wheatley’s new songs captured the spirit of the Marilyn numbers Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend and Heatwave without being slavish copies. Loleitha Evelyn is a real find and delivered a wonderful Mack The Knife as Ella Fitzgerald.

Who knew that Marilyn Monroe championed the young Ella at the start of her career?

Sally Scurrell’s direction was simple and direct and kept the action moving swiftly on. It was a clever device having the doctors and nurses transform into people from Monroe’s life with the shedding of a white coat.

Technically there were a few hiccups on the opening night with erratic lighting and the piano volume being far too loud – drowning out the actors voices. I am sure that these problems will be swiftly ironed out.

During the evening Lorena Cenci’s play delivers an awful lot of information – much of it I didn’t know – but what I liked about it was that at the end, even though I knew All About Marilyn – she remained an enigma and that’s how I like her.

Andrew Clarke

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