Marilyn Monroe is an iconic figure around whom endless myths have been constructed and trying to disentangle fact from fiction is no mean feat. There have been a profusion of biographies attempting to find out where Norma Jean stopped and Marilyn begun but her whole process of radical reinvention was so thorough it's difficult trying to discern the join.
In the inviting confines of the King's Head - a venue perfectly suited to confessional monologue - Steve Black is bravely staging his own version of Marilyn's story, set in the confines of an anonymous motel in the 1950s. Here, besieged by the demands of stardom and with her personal life swiftly unravelling, Marilyn has sought brief refuge, finding temporary solace by confiding her troubles to an enigmatic stranger.
This is the framework for Black's play and though you can see its broad appeal it doesn't possess enough real dramatic potential, feeling far too often like chunks of biography given a glamorous topcoat. As the play opens, the stranger- ostensibly a young waiter- and Marilyn, clad in pink satin pajamas -begin their intimate tete a tete, loneliness and confusion persuading the film star to glance backwards at her life trajectory. Whatever one's reservations about the play itself, hearty congratulations must go to Sally Day (here making her London debut) for constructing a very credible performance indeed as the bewildered Monroe. She's mastered most of Marilyn's mannerisms perfectly and captures the star's blend of overt sexuality and natural vulnerability superbly.
As the receptive stranger who may or may not have his own agenda for pursuing Marilyn, Andrew Crabb has the problem that while his character provides the catalyst Marilyn needs to revisit her journey from unwanted orphan to darling of the silver screen, it's quite a static role and often seems over-contrived. The finale's brief revelation only enhances this sense of the slightly surreal. Providing a glimpse into one of the twentieth century's most extraordinary lives it's an entertaining enough production, but as a biographical drama it lacks the variety of pace necessary to lift it above the ordinary.