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The Marilyn Conspiracy at Park Theatre | Review

Performed ‘in the round’ (strictly speaking, ‘in the rectangle’), a stage revolve moves about as slowly as the narrative in a show that, at least to me, felt like it was happening in real time. One might be inclined to think that Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) (Genevieve Gaunt) really should just be left alone. Indeed, that is what the other characters largely end up doing, arguing between themselves at length in the aftermath of her death – a “probable suicide”, according to the findings of the inquest.

Genevieve Gaunt as Marilyn Monroe in the Marilyn Conspiracy. (c) NUX Photography.
Genevieve Gaunt as Marilyn Monroe in the Marilyn Conspiracy. (c) NUX Photography.

On balance, the production might have been better off without the revolve and without stage-side seating – I noticed in the interval how a lamp on a table in a corner of the stage, and not on the revolve, were somewhat restricting the view of a couple of patrons in the front row. Within minutes, the storyline had reached the point at which a radio broadcast had announced Monroe’s death – and Gaunt’s Monroe might not have had much to do during the performance, save for the action not being in forward chronological order.

The time-hopping is both a blessing and a curse. The latter, of course, because at the start of each new scene, the flip-flopping takes the audience out of whatever present moment the previous scene was in and requires some readjustment accordingly. The former is partly on the account of Gaunt’s pitch perfect portrayal of Monroe – the look, the voice, the mannerisms, the demanding nature a wealthy Hollywood star might well possibly have made on her housekeeper, Eunice Murray (1902-1994) (Sally Mortemore). Flashback scenes break up a long meeting of minds.

In the first half, when a meeting of Monroe’s supposedly closest friends and confidants is called after she dies, a rather unnecessary piece of suspense music plays in the background, at length. Thankfully it’s dispensed with after the interval but what ultimately happens is that the show descends to the level of soap opera style shouting. Pat Newcomb (the real one is still alive, 93 years young at the time of writing) (Susie Amy), Monroe’s publicist, was, according to this production, furious with Peter Lawford (1923-1984) (Declan Bennett) – an English actor, hence an English accent – in turn married to Patricia (Natasha Colenso), both a socialite and a Kennedy.

People who tell others not to yell lose their own tempers remarkably quickly, until the lot of them, including Dr Hyman Engelberg (1913-2005) (Maurey Richards), Monroe’s doctor, and Dr Ralph Greenson (1911-1979) (David Calvitto), her psychiatrist, and Dr Greenson’s wife Hildi (1913-2013) (Angela Bull), are embroiled in a shoutathon. The reasons for the course of action the (not so) magnificent seven end up taking are given some context in Vicki McKellar and Guy Masterson’s script, which come across as simultaneously contrived and helpful: times were different then, and wide-reaching possible implications if they did not all corroborate to bend the truth were made clear to the audience.

If anything, it’s a mildly interesting insight into how civilised and intelligent people can be pressurised and effectively bullied into doing and saying things that aren’t entirely, if at all, true, in the name of the greater good. The real-life implications of that are practically infinite. It is, however, rather too detailed, and for a play that is itself part-imagined, I found it difficult to maintain interest. Then again, there’s an almost textbook example in this show that demonstrates, well and truly, that it’s not what you know, but who you know, that can help someone get what they want.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Marilyn Monroe Genevieve Gaunt
Peter Lawford Declan Bennett
Dr Ralph Greenson David Calvitto
Mrs Hildi Greenson Angela Bull
Pat Newcomb Susie Amy
Mrs Patricia Kennedy-Lawford Natasha Colenso
Mrs Eunice Murray Sally Mortemore
Hyman Engelberg Maurey Richards

Director Guy Masterson
Writers Vicki McKellar and Guy Masterson
Set and costume designer Sarah Mills
Associate set and costume designer Mike Lees
Lighting designer Tom Turner
Sound designer and composer Jack Arnold

Based on years of meticulous research, actress and writer Vicki McKellar and Olivier Award-winning director Guy Masterson’s thriller reconstructs the last four days and immediate aftermath of the death of Marilyn Monroe. In the official version of events, she was found nude in her bed holding a telephone, but before the police were called, her doctor, psychiatrist, publicist, housekeeper, and some close friends gathered to decide how to break the news. But what led to this tragic event? A tangled web of misinformation and lies unfold and the facts and myths of the case are exposed to reveal what really happened that fateful night and why. The first version of The Marilyn Conspiracy, which focused on the conspiracy elements of the story, was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2018 and this updated version, which adds more around the build-up to Monroe’s death, is making its world premiere in London.

Guy Masterson – Theatre Tours International Ltd and Park Theatre present
Park200, Park Theatre
19 June to 27 July 2024


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