The Casa Theatre, Hope Street
Produced by Breakthrough Theatre
25th January 2019

Reviewed by Finvola Dunphy

Marilyn Monroe’s iconic status has been a source of creative output by countless writers and directors both in film and theatre. Is there really anything new to discover about the beloved star? Breakthrough Theatre’s one woman play offered an intriguing insight into the real Norma Jean and what life was truly like behind the spotlight.

Marilyn’s tumultuous life is no secret but what most don’t appreciate is the intelligence and ambition of the blonde Hollywood star. The internal turmoil and angst were beautifully captured by talented actress, Danielle J Gearing. Not only did she bear a striking resemblance to Monroe, but flawlessly mastered the light and airy American accent with heart and sincerity.

The play takes place in the star’s Hollywood-style dressing room complete with a nostalgic crackling record player and ornate dressing table with scotch decanter and decadent perfume bottles. The Casa Theatre was the perfect setting for this intimate performance. There was a real sense that the audience was privy to a well-kept secret and were gradually exposed to Monroe’s unravelling mental anguish.

A one-woman play is a challenging feat for any performer and director. The actor, script, sound and lighting queues are laid bare. After a few stumbles over lines at the beginning, the characterisation of Miss Monroe was cemented. The seamless shifts from scene to scene were well executed, highlighting the stark separation between the star and the person.

The audience was wholly enticed by the compelling story of Joe’s domestic abuse which reached an apex upon the sporadic consumption of pills and liquor. Gearing masterfully slipped in and out of an altered state of consciousness and captivated the audience with her constant emotional fluctuation.

There were a few instances when the music queues cut-off abruptly which stunted the progression of the narrative but, it was redeemed by on-stage costume changes which helped transition us from scene to scene. What was slightly unforgivable was the dishevelled blonde wig arguably, Marilyn’s most iconic aesthetic. It was starkly overlooked in comparison with the level of detail in the rest of the production. Though seemingly pedantic, it was a shame that the costume piece detracted from Gearing’s raw and emotional portrayal.

Overall, the script and direction were impressive, taking us right through Marilyn’s life and career and revealing the dark secrets behind the star that critics branded a mere pretty face and sex symbol. For the first part of the production, the audience is unsure as to whether they are observers to the scene or whether the story is being dictated to us.

But after the second half we became flies on the wall, exposed to the true character of Norma Jean, her drastic mood swings, self-medication and her constant battle to uphold her image.

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