Marilyn Monroe – or Norma Jeane as she was born – most people already know the classic tale of the orphan turned icon.  Celebrating her ninetieth year, Christopher’s Swann’s production about the woman behind Hollywood’s golden years is set in the mental institution she was admitted to in 1961.

Peter Bingemann’s set design of Norma Jeane – The Musical highlights the isolation Norma Jeane felt during her life. Using muted colours across a stark room and the angular shapes contrasts with Monroe’s curvaceous body and personality she created for herself.

Transferred from Ye Old Rose and Crown, the intimate Lost Theatre helps the audience understand the fragile state Norma was in when admitted.

Adam Scown’s choreography showcases the flash, loud Hollywood we imagine, although restricted from the size of the stage created the impression that Hollywood was constrained in her mind.

“Joanne Clifton is Marilyn Monroe” on the poster designed by James Thacker is quite a statement. With Clifton’s impeccable comedic timing and grand gestures, she resembles the characters Monroe portrayed in the movies and what the audience imagine to a tick. After all she did win an Oscar for best female in a comedy.

The juxtaposition between Norma Jeane portrayed by Sarah Rose Denton who was lost in her mind represented the split personalities beneath. With Denton’s powerful voice, and Clifton’s impeccable characterisation, both actresses were the strongest in the cast and helped the audience uncover the hidden truths of mental health and Marilyn. The themes of isolation and the need to belong surrounded Norma Jeane her whole life as she spent much of it searching for her father. Alex Bellamy’s upbeat songs and cynical lyrics represented the cruel, vicious lifestyle Monroe inhabited surrounded by the glitz and glammer.  

Even though it had a touch of the amateur dramatics with the ensembles changing depending on the voices of Norma’s past,  you couldn’t help but be enchanted by the determination of Norma becoming the icon adored by thousands.

The choreography was something of an add on mainly to showcase Clinton’s versatility and talent as a dancer rather than a singer. The set pieces were not really long enough to develop the rest of the cast as dancers and in some instances seemed somewhat a distraction. However the show in general made valiant attempts to be a musical without really achieving it.

Maybe it was the actual subject matter itself that was not suited to this genre although I  believe it was a great attempt to give light on the issues surrounding mental health in a creative way.

On the whole it was enjoyable and the audience would have felt more of an awareness of the life of the person everyone thought they knew already. It seemed very much a work in progress and has yet to reach its peak. The strength of the production is the two leads ability to remain in character throughout and their authenticity does make it a production worth the journey to Stockwell.


Norma Jeane The Musical is playing Lost Theatre until Saturday 18 June. For more information and tickets, please see Norma Jeane the Musical website.

Image: David Elms