"Peroxide – that's all it is," says a long-suffering hairdresser working for Marilyn Monroe as she takes up residence in the Beverly Hills Hotel while shooting Let's Make Love. In an adjoining room, her husband, Arthur Miller, is typing out the screenplay for The Misfits; over the corridor, that other big-screen blonde, Simone Signoret, is accompanying her husband, and Monroe's co-star, Yves Montand.
In Sue Glover's new bio-drama, Monroe is all too aware that peroxide is all it is. "I've gotten over acting with my hair," she says before one of her many bouts of self-doubt, as she struggles to feel the equal of her intellectual husband and a match for the European sophistication of Signoret. Yes, she reads Shakespeare for pleasure, but there's a big part of Norma Jeane that loves to play the bubbly good-time girl. Signoret, meanwhile, has the opposite complaint: she resents having to soup up her French accent, dumb down her intelligence and fit in with the Hollywood formula just to be employed in a reactionary USA.
Frances Thorburn captures Monroe down to the last boo-boo-be-doo. Her girlish sensuality would be erotic if it didn't seem so gauche next to Signoret's elegance (a classy performance by Dominique Hollier, though marred by unvaried intonation). But we live in an age saturated with celebrities moaning about the pressures of fame, and this play merely presents two more. However well Philip Howard's production reflects the iconography of Monroe, the script is without dramatic interest: no question to be resolved, no crisis to be confronted and only Monroe's eternal mystique to sustain us.
© Mark Fisher 2011
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