Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

marilyn top

Georgina Kerr-Jones as Marilyn with Maureen George as loyal housekeeper Mrs Murray.

 Pictures: Christopher Commander

The Late Marilyn Monroe

Sutton Arts Theatre


We all know the West End hits, the big name musicals, the landmark plays and established favourites, but, tucked away, off the well beaten track, you can find hidden nuggets of theatre magic, like this wonderful gem of a play about the final day on earth of a Hollywood icon.

Paranoid, vulnerable, angry, afraid - the troubled star’s whole gamut of emotions is on show in a production that challenges the concept of amateur, it is professional in all but name.

Marilyn Monroe was more than a mere film star, she was a legend, lusted after by legions of teenage boys - and their fathers - in the 1950s and 60s, and imitated by generations of girls and women as a symbol of glamour, beauty, and, let’s face it, out and out sex.

This, after all, was a woman who could make Happy Birthday sound like an act of seduction. She died on the evening of 4 August 1962 from an overdose of barbiturates, officially a “probable suicide”, which opened the floodgates to a torrent of conspiracy theories, from the simplest, that the overdose was accidental, to the darker claims of murder.

Marilyn and Pat

Publicist and best friend Pat, played by Ailish Reel with the troubled Marilyn

She was killed on the orders of FBI director J Edgar Hoover as she threatened to spread the dirt on her lovers, the married JFK and the president’s attorney general brother Robert Kennedy - or it could have been the CIA for the same reason.

Then again it could have been on the orders of Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa as revenge for Bobby Kennedy’s investigation into his links with organised crime. Hoffa was to vanish in 1975, creating his own, more credible theory, of a Mafia hit.

The most bizarre theory was Monroe was murdered because she was about to reveal classified information about the existence of aliens . . . tin foil hats at the ready, please.

Birmingham writer and actor Darren Haywood eschews all the wild theories and sticks to the known facts filling in the gaps with sensible possibilities.

The whole play takes place on that fateful Saturday in Monroe’s plain, uncluttered, far from fancy, white bedroom, given some interest by a cutaway rear wall and scrim hiding movie poster and magazine covers, and accessories, including that dress – the one from the windy subway grating in The Seven Year Hitch - appearing through backlighting to indicate time passing.

Georgina Kerr-Jones, seen in Company and An Ideal Husband at Sutton Arts in the past, is simply superb. She is never off stage, giving us  the ever changing moods and emotions of the troubled soul that was Monroe. Not only does she resemble her but manages that distinctive slightly quiet, husky, baby doll tone to her voice – she becomes Marilyn Monroe, stirring long lost memories of youth.


Mark Natrass's Dr Greenson with his patient

At the drop of a negligee, her costume for most of the day, she could be sexy, or a frightened young girl, violently angry or thoughtlessly tactless and in the next breath  pleading with fulsome apologies. She shows steely independence needing nothing or no one and a minute later is desperately lonely and longing to be loved.

Underlying it all is the turmoil in her mind. At just 36, she is afraid she is old and losing her looks, it is the reason she feels she had been sacked from the making of Something's Got to Give by Fox  – nothing to do, of course, with her history of regularly arriving late, not knowing her lines, vanishing for hours, not turning up at all some days, and while making Something's Got to Give regularly being off sick, but not too sick to sing Happy Birthday to JFK! In short she was notoriously difficult to work with.

She had a hard upbringing with a father she never knew and a mother in and out of mental hospitals, being brought up by foster parents and orphanages.

With later fame came a drug problem, pharmaceutical rather than street, along with  depression leading to a short spell in Payne Whitney Clinic and then the mental ward at Columbia Presbyterian.

All that neurosis and despair is beautifully laid bare by Kerr-Jones who is working towards a career in this most precarious of professions. Performances like this prove the talent is there in abundance and all she is missing is the break.

There is wonderful support from Maureen George as the loyal, put-upon housekeeper Mrs Murray, who is regularly put down, apologised to and even sacked amid the wild Monroe mood swings. Her support of her young charge is unwavering with her declaration as Monroe faces a new day, a day that was to be her last, “Every day is a new chapter of your life that hasn’t been written yet”.

Then there is another wonderful performance, this time from Ailish Reel as Pat Newcomb, Monroe’s best friend and publicist treated as darling sister one minute and mere staff the next. Like with Eunice Murray, there is a love and sympathy for Monroe, despite the insults, accusations and, you suspect regular sackings. The relationship also illustrates Monroe’s problem with trust wanting to be loved in one breath, and her standing alone against a hostile world and everyone in it the next.

Then there is Mark Natrass, often seen more designing sets, including this realistic one, then appearing on them, making a house call as Dr Ralph Greenson, Monroe’s doctor, or more accurately, her psychiatrist, which says much about both stardom, and the state of Monroe’s mind that she had an on-call psychiatrist.

Natrass gives her doc a confident and reassuring air – and a sleeping draught to go with her average chemist’s shop stock of pills scattered around the bedroom.

It is the good doc who in real life was to find her naked, in bed surrounded by empty pill bottles with a telephone in her hand when Mrs Murray called and failed to enter the locked bedroom early the following morning.

I must admit I missed Haywood’s play when it had it’s world premiere at The Blue Orange on the edge of The Jewellery Quarter back in January, 2018, and it is a pity it has taken so long to surface again.

The play is based on the limited facts known on the fateful day with Haywood filling in the blanks with plausible conjecture, such as a call from second husband Joe DiMaggio’s son to bring in the fact Joe wanted to remarry, or the angry calls with Bobby Kennedy – a relationship never proved, and although never denied, was never confirmed either.

It led to seething anger with the Kennedy clan, and we heard of her run in with Billie Holiday – a misunderstanding at the Tiffany club which ended with Monroe burning all Holliday’s records, her feeling she was used by Sinatra, whose records she still played, her dislike of Elizabeth Taylor, and amid the anger, the sadness of her early life, failed and broken relationships and lost and struggling dreams.

Lighting from David Ashton is effective from the backlit wall behind the scrim to the change from early morning to midday to dusk and night through the French windows. Director Dexter Whitehead, well on the way to full recovery after his hospital drama, keeps things moving at pace, and along with wife Emily Amstrong has created a fine musical background of Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald working their way through the great American songbook all ending with Michael Jackson’s more modern but telling Gone Too Soon.

The feel is early 1960’s, the story believable and the legendary life tragic, The result, magnificent, magical theatre at its very best. To 04-05-24

Roger Clarke


Monroe appeared on the cover of the very first Playboy magazine in 1953, but had never posed for Playboy or been paid to appear. The nude pictures had been taken four years earlier when a struggling Monroe was broke and the $50 she was paid covered some pressing bills. The pictures were sold to a pin up calendar. In 1953 Monroe was now starting to find fame and Hugh Hefner saw an opportunity and bought the pictures.

Hefner had an obsession with Monroe, who he never met, and when she died bought the crypt next to hers at a premium from a private seller, where he was laid to rest in 2017. He had told the LA Times after the purchase: “Spending eternity next to Marilyn is too sweet to pass up.” 

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