It seems we’ve all been fooled. Marilyn Monroe didn’t kill herself – she moved to an unfashionable part of Essex while Elvis is serving family-sized buckets in a KFC somewhere and James Dean is a giant in the Texas oil business.
As conspiracy theories go Dylan Costello’sHello Norma Jeane is right up there with the best X Files. Perhaps the truth really is out there.
Hello Norma Jeane, which has just opened at London’s Park Theatre, may have its heart in the right place but it’s sorely let down by flat, halting performances and a hackneyed, largely unfunny, script riddled with clichés.
The premise is that Marilyn, the biggest sex symbol on the planet, didn’t die of a drugs overdose in 1962, but instead, terrified that the Kennedy clan and America’s security services were out to get her, faked her own death using a body double, and fled to Essex.
There she met and married Stanley, an electrician, adopted the local accent, served frothy cappuccinos in a roadside cafe, and had a daughter. When the girl died Marilyn, now called Lynnie, raised her grandson, Joe.
But the sex symbol has become a geriatric in a bad wig. She’s 76-years-old, suffering from dementia and incontinence, and dumped by Joe in a nursing home where she’s groped by confused old men looking for one last thrill.
The feisty old bird flees confinement and turns up in Los Angeles on a last road trip that promises bombshells from the ageing bombshell and explosive revelations before the pensioner goes out with a bang.
Joe, gay, working in Argos, and not making any sort of blip on the world’s radar, tracks her down and the delusional granny tries to convince the gullible boy, who is haunted by the ghost of Marilyn, that she is the real thing.
So is Lynnette Smith really Marilyn or just a lost and lonely old woman wanting her 15 minutes of fame? This flight of fancy probes a theme of celebrity culture, its characters all misguided, desperate people trying to make their mark in a society that worships fame.
Helping the Hollywood whimsy move along is an excellent supporting role from Tom Cruise (that got you interested didn’t it?). The magnificently turned out and chiselled jawed Peter McPherson, who must spend all his resting time in the gym, looks like a young Cruise, right down to the perfect smile. It’s disarming to watch.
McPherson gives one of the best performances in the production. His Bobby is one of la-la Land’s sad and lonely people who is looking for his big break. A gay, wannabe actor, popping pills and looking for some meaning in his life, he’s hired by Lynnie to convince Joe that the CIA are after her. The role is a bit of a stereotype but it’s well-played.
Vicki Michelle, off-stage a youthful-looking 66-year-old who, like Marilyn, has found herself throughout her career, frequently typecast as a sex symbol, plays Lynnie/Marilyn. But there’s little finesse in her performance and she struggles with the dialogue (and, to be fair, I don’t blame her. It’s cringe-worthy).
Perhaps it’s Matthew Gould’s direction but role needed more poignancy, mystery and conviction. Instead Michelle shouts her lines. Some are funny, most sounding terribly stilted.
Competing in the Marilyn stakes is Farrel Hegarty, who plays the stunning figment of Joe’s imagination, but she bears little resemblance to the legend, in voice or appearance.
Joe (Jamie Hutchins) has little self worth and, like all the show’s characters, is drifting in the world, stupidly thinking that the key to success is piggybacking his gran’s infamy.
This could have been so much better.
Hello Norma Jeane runs at Park Theatre until March 19.
Hello Norma Jeane
Hello Norma Jeane is a fantasy conspiracy drama whose heart is in the right place but suffers from halting performances and hackneyed dialogue riddled with clichés.