Writer and director: Darren Haywood
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
There are few undisputed facts about the death of Marilyn Monroe: it took place on Saturday, 4 August, 1962 at her home; present in the house was her housekeeper, Eunice Murray; prior to her death she had had her friend, Pat Newcomb staying as a house guest and had a home visit from her psychiatrist, Ralph Greenson. Her death was ruled as probable suicide by the coroner, but there have been multiple theories, including conspiracy theories involving the Kennedys. As to the sequence of events, it seems that no-one can agree a definitive timeline and the accounts of Newcomb and Greenson contradict one another. Darren Haywood and Taking Chances have looked at the evidence to produce a piece in which Haywood tries to ‘get as close as [he] can [to the true events of that day] to do Marilyn justice’. Does he succeed?
In Haywood’s vision, Monroe is troubled and dependent on prescription drugs. Her future is uncertain as she has been fired from her latest film. She is unable to sleep, claiming that she is kept awake all night by mysterious phone calls. During the day, her moods swing violently and she becomes increasingly paranoid. Nevertheless, when she is upbeat, she is looking forward to moving on and has meetings pencilled with the great and good of Hollywood. When down, she is bent under the weight of Hollywood’s expectation that its starlets be young and beautiful; she suffers doubt and when Newcomb is unable to find a copy of Life magazine featuring a photo shoot of Monroe – for the very good reason that it has sold out – Haywood’s Monroe suspects that the edition has been withdrawn and her fragile self-esteem is fractured further. In Haywood’s vision, Monroe is a child-like figure. While she is a victim, she is not the victim of a murder and cover-up: however, what Haywood isn’t able to offer is a clear understanding of why his Marilyn eventually takes too many tablets, overwhelming her body.
Haywood has written and directed this piece; the set design is also his. The action takes place in Monroe’s bedroom from the moment she awakes on that Saturday until she is discovered dead that evening. It’s a stark set with white walls and utilitarian furniture that serves to focus the mind on the action. However, the whole is rather overlong – especially the first half – and the final scenes as Monroe finally slips off the edge to an accompaniment of incoming and outgoing phone calls feels rather protracted. What Haywood demonstrates is a skill in writing and directing for a character in crisis bringing verisimilitude to Monroe’s occasional hesitancy and repetition – although that also seems to be heightened by a few stumbles by the cast, perhaps caused by first night nerves.
At the centre, of course, is the character of Monroe, played by Tania Staite. She looks and sounds as we imagine Monroe to be, showing her neediness and vulnerability well. She captures the physicality of her character, compulsively brushing hair, her obsession with looking young. Before the interval, there are a few scenes in which she is moved to anger and these don’t work quite as well; after the interval, however, her descent and increasing isolation are believable and poignant. Ellie Darvill’s Mrs Murray provides Monroe with the mother figure she has missed growing up: Darvill brings a solidity and dependability to Murray, making her a sympathetic character. Dru Stephenson’s Pat Newcomb and Martin Rossen’s Ralph Greenson have less stage time but both provide support for Monroe, even as she rails against them.
Haywood clearly has affection for Monroe and has taken time to research her life and last hours thoroughly to provide a moving account; however, it feels a work in progress. Some of the scenes are repetitive and could use some pruning to tighten up the narrative. Nevertheless, The Late Marilyn Monroe does shine some light on how her life might well have ended.
Runs until 3 February 2018 | Image: Contributed