Written by Terry Johnson, Directed by Samuel West
Liverpool Playhouse, 22nd-26th March 2005

Reviewed by Julian Bond

The Sheffield Theatres have taken on Terry Johnson’s 1985 hit Insignificance, which has the wonderful premise of placing Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, Joe DiMaggio and Senator McCarthy in one hotel room together at the height of the McCarthy’s witch hunt for communists deemed to be engaging in ‘unamerican activities’.

For those unfamiliar with the play - and if theatre ain’t your thing there is a good Nicolas Roeg film version - it is a wonderful, spellbinding magician's display with little plot, but held together by the tightest of language. It discusses everything from the nature of the universe - see Marilyn Monroe explaining the Special Theory of Relativity to Einstein - the horror, superficiality and emptiness of fame; the need for love and the cynicism of politics.

Did it work at the Playhouse? Unreservedly yes. Due to the lack of plot everything stands or falls with the quality of the acting and the actors are to be commended for their excellence. With fine acting there is no competition, as was the case here. Each actor excelled in their own way, a genuinely nice but very sad Marilyn Monroe played by Mary Stockley, Nicholas Le Prevost’s humane and witty Einstein, Patrick O’Kane’s ‘dumb-ass’ DiMaggio, coming across as nonetheless decent and Geradr Horan’s sweating, cynical, superficial and lacking in human warmth McCarthy.

Samuel West has created proper theatre, which unlike too much contemporary fare is not watered down. The set is a tilting, slightly angled, anonymous American hotel room with a star-filled night as backdrop, and this worked well, although the mirrored chrome display looking down on the set seemed without purpose. And finally we had the effects of a neutron bomb thrown in for good measure, with a wonderfully revealed set for its 10 second duration. This was the only point where time ‘stood still’, or not as Marilyn Monroe would have corrected me.