Over recent years there have been several one woman shows on the Edinburgh Fringe about Marilyn Monroe, the iconic blonde superstar. The title of this new play by Sue Glover is probably a little misleading, as it is not a bio-drama or a solo performance. This is the story of the real life meeting between Marilyn and the French actress Simone Signoret.
During the filming of “Let’s Make Love” in 1960, Marilyn’s co-star Yves Montand lived with his wife Simone beside Ms Monroe and her husband Arthur Miller in Bungalows 20 and 21 of the Beverley Hills Hotel, Los Angeles.
There was quiet gossip about a Monroe-Montand affair (taking the movie title to heart with method acting style!). Later Monroe did tell her dresser that after Signoret and Miller left town, they did have a brief affair.
In this short, intimate play, we observe the fun, friendship, stress and strain between the two women. We listen to the girly gossip when they chat with Patti, their film studio hairdresser, as she applies their weekly blonde highlights. At an early age Marilyn was fully aware of the power of glamour, working as a teenage model.
For a shampoo advert she had to have her hair bleached, and Norma Jeane stepped through the looking glass to become “Marilyn.” But by the mid 1950s, tired of sexy, dumb blonde roles, she wanted to be appreciated as a serious actress, and studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors’ studio in New York.
The setting is Marilyn’s bungalow living room, furnished with white leather sofas and a cocktail cabinet. She lounges about in her negligee, sipping a glass of champagne and reading Shakespeare. She boasts to Simone that she could play Cordelia or Lady Macbeth, with the quip, “who says she was always a brunette?” They discuss their husbands, film roles, French and American politics. Patti moves between the two women, making each as glamorous as the other.
Hollywood jealousy ensues when Simone is nominated for, and later wins, an Oscar for her role as Alice in “Room at the Top.” Tension between the two feisty, foxy women grows more and more intense as Marilyn tries to prove her intelligence, political views and dramatic acting talent. Perhaps the reason she tries to steal Simone’s husband is revenge for failure – her marriage to Miller is on the rocks and there will be no Oscar for “Let’s Make Love”. Two years later, of course Marilyn is dead.
The triangle of three women works well as theatre. Frances Thorburn gives a sensitive, sensual performance as Marilyn, with vivacious charm and lovely singing voice. This is balanced by the severe, supercilious manner of Simone (Dominque Hollier) and the sparkling Pauline Knowles as Patti.
But it’s the storyline and script which in the end does not reveal anything new or offer emotional or dramatic insight into Marilyn’s tortured personality. What is missing from the cast list is the portrayal of Montand and Miller themselves, which could create a real clash of characters within these two couples, in similar vein to "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf".
Looking back at the fabulous one-woman Fringe shows, these were inspiring portraits of this sad, young, disillusioned blonde lady who just wanted to be loved for her beauty and recognised for her art.
As a postscript, according to her autobiography, Simone never believed the Montand-Monroe affair. She wrote of Marilyn after her death, "She's gone, without knowing that I never stopped wearing the champagne colored silk scarf she'd lent me one day.”
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, 22 February - 12 March, 2011
Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, 15 March-2 April, 2011