Life & Culture

The Marilyn Conspiracy review: An evening of ... conspiracies


Genevieve Gaunt plays Marilyn Monroe Credit: Nux Photography

Park Theatre | ★★★✩✩

Co-written by Vicki McKeller and Guy Masterson (who also directs) this play believes Marilyn Monroe was murdered. There were, we learn, seven friends and acquaintances at the star’s Hollywood home on the night of Monroe’s death. Yet five hours passed before one of them reported the “apparent suicide”.

They group included actor Peter Lawford (Declan Bennett), his wife Patricia Kennedy (Natasha Colenso who replaces the unwell McKeller), Monroe’s doctor Dr Hyman Engelberg (Maurey Richards) and her psychiatrist Dr Ralph Greenson (David Calvitto).

All had been with Monroe to celebrate her new million-dollar movie contract with Fox, but what on earth did they talk about on the night of Monroe’s death?

In heated exchanges the play imagines that the doctors saw evidence of foul play. If this became public the resulting scandal would cause the government to fall because of Monroe’s affairs with the then American president Jack Kennedy and his brother Bobby, the attorney general. We also learn that Lawford had recently attempted and failed to bully Monroe into giving up her diary which could be deeply compromising for the brothers. Monroe refused, so Bobby, we are invited to conclude, had a motive to commit murder.

In the flashback scenes Genevieve Gaunt is a lively and angry Monroe taking a stand against the men who bully her. But exposition and dialogue that is far less witty than the people delivering it appear to think weigh these scenes down. The evening does spark into life when Lawford attempts, Twelve Angry Men-style, to persuade everyone to hide facts that would bring down the government.

Rat Pack star Lawford is the villain of the piece here, acting it seems at the behest of Bobby Kennedy. Yet with a structure that vaults back and forth from and to the night of Monroe’s death, this is not the thriller the creators apparently want it to be, a hope broadcast by the Hitchcockian mood music. The effect is more like a game of Cluedo, plus shouty exchanges revealing who did what and in which room. The facts are interesting, it’s true. But had conspiracy been shown rather than described, it would have made for a tenser evening.​

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