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  • Isabella Thompson

Review - The Marilyn Conspiracy

Park Theatre

Playing until 27th July 2024

Review {AD-PR Gifted}

Fame; intrigue; scandal: the perfect recipe for a filthy rich drama. But despite its fascinating history, The Marilyn Conspiracy production doesn’t quite meet the gritty heights of its true crime potential.


Inspired by the writings of Matthew Smith who exposed the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Marilyn Monroe, The Marilyn Conspiracy makes clear its message: despite official records stating ‘probable suicide’, this is not the truth. Our story begins with Monroe’s final moments and concludes with the critical phone call to the police notifying them of her death. The nucleus of the play is the stretch of five hours between these two events. Over the course of the play, the audience witness Monroe’s doctor, psychiatrist, housekeeper and four friends argue in a state of panic over what happened, who is to blame and the global ramifications of her passing.


As soon as the audience take their seats, they are transported into 1962’s Hollywood. The stage is set with an array of soft seating in retro beige and brown tones in typical 60s fashion, and as the action unfolds, the centrepiece continually rotates, giving the audience a full 360-degree view of the intimate lounge. We are immediately introduced to Genevieve Gaunt’s Marilyn: coquettish, ultra-feminine and a high-pitched sing-song voice to match. Gaunt does a wonderful job delivering a faultless accent and oozing with cheeky charm; however, what strikes me is co-writer and director, Guy Masterson’s decision to present a Marilyn Monroe that is the epitome of her pin-up ‘dumb-blonde’ stereotype.


It appears as though we are watching one of Marilyn’s signature characters — a Lorelei Lee, for example — rather than an authentic portrayal of Monroe herself. This would be acceptable if Marilyn were a cameo role in a satire about Hollywood’s Golden Age; but given that this play is a serious investigation concerning the circumstances around her death and (according to Vicky McKellar, co-writer and originator) comes from a place of deep respect, this seems a puzzling, if not an inappropriate directorial choice. Society has been obsessed with the image of Marilyn Monroe since her death, producing countless films, TV shows, fashion statements, photoshoots and more that result in a complete objectification of someone who hated being defined by her image. Sadly, despite their intentions, the play’s characterisation of Marilyn persuades me to put it in the same category as all those other Monroe stories that profit off of her image.


McKellar and Masterson’s writing is successful in its clever use of structure and analepses as well as formulating clear, distinct characters that jump off the page. It is evident that their work helps the actors bring their roles to life beyond what can be gathered from research, as many bold choices are made to communicate their personas. The production does suffer from a slight telenovela quality in that there are numerous dramatic one-liners and long stretches of dramatic postulating; however, this could be a matter of taste. What should be noted, is that the play feels too long, which is mainly due to the dialogue in the second half where characters have the tendency to go round in circles in their arguments. Too much time passes where nothing is revealed and the characters become stagnant in their perspectives, which usually causes the audience to disengage from the action. This is not helped by the Lord of the Rings-esque dramatic music played in between scenes and the flickering of lights after someone shouts “so if it wasn’t pills what was it?!”


Despite these drawbacks, it would be difficult not to be both intrigued and entertained by The Marilyn Conspiracy. The subject matter itself is tantalising and it is clear that a wealth of research was done to produce such a detailed analysis of the hours after Marilyn’s death. The political fallout, confusing evidence and many secrets that have remained a mystery to this day make for a gripping story; however, more work needs to be done on its execution for this play to shine as brightly as its heroine.



Co-writer and originator: Vicky McKellar

Co-writer and director: Guy Masterson

Set and costume designer: Sarah June Mills

Associate set and costume designer: Mike Lees

Lighting designer: Tom Turner

Sound designer and composer: Jack Arnold

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