City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Died Blondes, theSpace@Jury's Inn, Review

By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 17 August 2017

Joan Ellis in Died Blondes
Show details
Joan Ellis
Running time: 
Joan Ellis (writer and director)
Joan Ellis (Ruth Ellis, Marilyn Monroe)

The succinct title neatly links the tragic tales of two glamorous women, a convicted murderer and an iconic screen goddess, which takes us on a journey from Holloway Prison in July 1955 to Hollywood, August 1962.

The Studio theatre is pretty cramped with around 30 seats, leaving no room for an actual stage. Instead, on the floor, the “set” is the play’s promotional poster - a photograph of the perfectly groomed, permed, lip pouting, Marilyn. Joan Ellis, dressed in funeral black skirt and jacket, clutching a bundle of A 4 typed sheets of paper, starts with an introduction to the show which will describe the contrasting final hours in the lives of Ruth Ellis and Marilyn Monroe.

Adopting Ruth’s chirpy, cockney accent of the peroxide blonde bar hostess, who relates her personal story in a letter to her former boyfriend, David Blakely. Having fallen in love with the handsome racing driver, he cheated on her, leading to jealousy and revenge. Without being able to explain the whole truth of their relationship, she is found guilty of cold blooded murder: “It wasn’t me, I was a different person,” she now admits, just hours before her execution.

This first person narrative should be chilling, thrilling stuff, but the performance, unfortunately, is not dramatised: Joan addresses the audience, reading the entire text of the letter.

Then she moves swiftly to her next character. Curiously, Joan disappears behind the screen to “become” Marilyn off stage, from where we hear her husky, breathy voice in a phone call to her former husband, Joe DiMaggio. She is terrified of what the Kennedy brothers are plotting to keep her quiet. Having had affairs with both John and Robert, political and personal pillow talk is now her threat to destroy these “liars, mobsters.” She pleads for Joe to come over to save her.

The mystery surrounding her final hours has led to endless speculation and conspiracy theories; this short fictionalised, yet fact-based scene delves into what happened in those final hours. Was it “probable suicide”, or a cover-up murder by the FBI?

But with no performance to watch, it is very disconcerting and dull to stare at an actor-less empty stage. Then as a bizarre “encore,” Joan reads a humorous short story about her school days. This completely destroys any emotional tension felt in Marilyn’s plea for help.

So instead of the expected play, we are presented with a Lecture and a Radio script. The saving grace is that Joan Ellis is a fine mimic, capturing the accents and tone of voices well.

The lack of a set eliminates any sense of theatricality. Both narratives need to evoke place and period: Scene 1: In a 1950s summer frock, Ruth sits on her prison bed holding pen and paper, composing the letter. Scene 2: in a vintage silk negligee, Marilyn lies on the bed, martini cocktail and telephone in hand. Simply staged, “Died Blondes” could be transformed into professional, dramatic performance.

15 – 19 August, 2017 @ 17.05.
Ticket prices: £5 (£3)
Age guidance: 18+