The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe[author-post-rating] (4/5 Stars)

I keep encountering Marilyn Monroe. I finished Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates and found a second-hand copy of a Monroe biography in a bookshop; I saw Dickie Beau’s beautiful reconstruction of her in Blackouts at Soho Theatre; I watched Some Like It Hot with my mother. So as I flipped through the Fringe programme lackadaisically and spotted Dyad Productions’s The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe, I realised what God was trying to tell me: I am destined to become the next Marilyn Monroe.

OK, not really, but it did make me eager to see the show. I reviewed Dyad Productions’s Female Gothic at the Fringe last year and I continue to find them an intriguing, exciting and dedicated theatre company. But I also felt alarmed. Marilyn Monroe was and is a construction, a Barbie doll. There’s something risky and a little fetishistic about reconstructing a construction 50 years after it collapsed, and even Monroe’s infamous terrors and manic episodes have become part of the Marilyn shtick. Her legacy is as much about burst capillaries and biannual overdoses as it is her sex appeal and screen presence. Can anybody mimic such a quintessential and ubiquitous figure of Americana successfully? Or will it always seem pantomimic?

Lizzie Wort, who takes on the role of Monroe, gives a capable, assured, consistent performance that avoids sensationalism and needless cliche. As the audience crowd into the venue, we enter Marilyn’s soon-to-be death chamber – her Hollywood bedroom. Clothes, pill bottles and books litter the floor. Wort is asleep on a plush bed, awakening as the show begins and greeting the audience in a breezy East Coast accent that is unmistakably Marilyn. She performs a long monologue, interrupted every now and then by the creepy ringing of a telephone. She proceeds to guzzle down pills and alcohol but manages to hold a sentence down until the show’s climax. This is one of the few mistakes in the production. It’s difficult to convey Marilyn’s mental state while keeping the monologue cohesive and coherent; Wort’s performance may have been more affecting if we could see the effect of the dozens of pills subtly through her voice and gestures. Instead, she seems relatively sane – if frantic – for the majority of the show.

Certain moments of The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe are strikingly powerful: Marilyn’s talk of her experience of child abuse is shocking, grotesque and yet oddly gorgeous in its presentation. The lighting and sound is ideal and complements Wort’s stark confessional perfectly. The echoing noise of mysterious footsteps adds an element of dread and suggests murder, while the brash shriek of the telephone divides each part of the monologue before it gets turgid. The script is immaculate, evoking the humid bittersweet air of 1960s Los Angeles with a poetic grace. Factually, the confessional is incredibly accurate, and those uninitiated into Monroe’s private life will discover a lot of truths about her relationships with the Kennedy brothers and Arthur Miller. As a performance, The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe is a triumphantly executed one-woman show: a remarkable achievement for Dyad Productions.

The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe is at Assembly George Square until 26 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.