First mentioned here, The Dame and the Showgirl – Simon Berry’s new play, inspired by Marilyn’s friendship with poet Edith Sitwell – has made its debut on Audible, earning a promising review from The Guardian‘s Chris Wiegand.
“Emma Thompson plays the brisk, no-nonsense poet as a fish out of water, grumbling that ‘Dame Sitwell’ makes her sound like a panto star and furious that her interviewee is five minutes late. Sinead Matthews, riotously good as the nurse in the Park theatre’s Loot revival in 2017, is a suitably breathy Monroe, her voice instantly conjuring wide-eyed wonder and earnestness. Sitwell’s withering stance soon softens as the pair team up to get rid of a fawning representative from the magazine and Monroe’s officious handler from the studio. They celebrate this conspiratorial victory with a cocktail, Monroe gurgling with laughter at Sitwell’s ‘bottoms up!’ toast.
Each character’s diction bemuses the other: Sitwell, unafraid to breezily drop ‘subterfuge’ into a sentence (‘such wonderful words!’ responds Monroe) is stupefied by the American star’s casual mention of a ‘quarterback in the pro bowl’ – a line Thompson repeats with exquisite bewilderment. When Monroe reveals she attended Sitwell’s recent recital, the poet purrs not just from flattery but the prospect that there is more to her guest than expected. Their conversation covers Freud, Rudolf Steiner and the plays of Monroe’s future husband Arthur Miller. Sitwell’s semi-religious love for poetry is matched by Monroe’s devotion to moviemaking.
The real-life meeting took place in January. That summer Monroe had her hand and footprints done outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and by Christmas she was the first Playboy cover star. Both of those events are imagined by Berry to have already happened, allowing him to emphasise Monroe and Sitwell’s suspicions of the other as a ‘prude’ and ‘hussy’ respectively, and to dwell on Monroe’s exploitation, the machinations of the industry and her limiting sex-bomb persona. But the arguments could just as easily have been made using Monroe’s experiences before 1953.
The relationship that doesn’t quite convince is between Marilyn and pre-fame Norma Jean Baker. When she talks about herself in the third person, and suggests Marilyn is a persona she turns on and off, there is no strong sense of disconnect. Sitwell wrote of a ‘ghostly beauty’ in Monroe’s face but aside from evoking the troubled feelings she has about her mentally ill mother, Berry never fully draws out her worries … But, with lively support from Stuart McQuarrie, Joseph Mydell and Danusia Samal, this is a compelling, rather tender hour shared by two women as the sun shines brightly on one career while slowly setting on the other.”