© Richard Campbell

Marilyn‘ at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre, is the story of being famous and the things women had to do get there in 1960’s Hollywood.

Or, as Marilyn succinctly quips, “I guess girls like us spend a lot of time on our knees – that’s Hollywood.”

By focussing closely on the story of the world’s most famous ‘sweater girl’ and Simone Signoret, the sophisticated, intellectual actress of the day, Sue Glover‘s brilliant script provides an illuminating insight into women “working for The Studio – we all work for The Studio ultimately.”

During the summer of 1960, Marilyn Monroe and Simone Signoret live in adjacent apartments of the Beverley Hills Hotel. Thrown together while Monroe films the movie ‘Let’s Make Love‘ with Signoret’s husband, Yves Montand, the pair form an uneasy friendship, plagued by jealousy and insecurity.  Under the watchful eye of Patti, hairdresser to the stars, it becomes a relationship that tests their deepest beliefs and threaten to destroy them both.

Marilyn, as played stunningly by Frances Thorburn – even the singing is worth the ticket price alone, never mind the rest of the scintillating, vivacious, driven, cookie and disturbed performance – is portrayed as being the most ambitious of the two.  When talking about actresses of the past, she calls them “Dead, or their careers have gone dead – which is the same thing.”

Marilyn’s character twists and turns with insomnia – “Sleep – how do you do that again?” – and jealousy of her more sophisticated new friend Simone who is adored by “le tout Paris”.  She offers two renditions of “My Heart Belongs To Daddy” emphasising her ultimate devotion to the man, the studio, the cash and her ambition over friendship and loyalty.

She oscillates between wanting to Be Marilyn, the uber-pouty, pin-up girl: “I just can’t go through that door until I feel like … look like … Marilyn” and being taken seriously as a proper actress “Big ass, big tits, big deal”.

Simone, Marilyn and Yves

Even Simone, the stylish intellectual, puts all her energies into her man while her career takes a dip, waiting for the right script “You must never do stupid movies.”

Finally, when she doesn’t get the adoration she craves from her friend who ultimately wins the Oscar, Marilyn steals the one prize Simone adores above all, her husband.  But Simone’s character, as played brilliantly by the French actor, Dominique Hollier, is also hoist by her career.  At a critical point between staying to prevent Marilyn getting with her husband and flying off to a great part, she chooses to take the long-distance role.

Her anguish is palpable: “I can’t go out. If I open my mouth, it howls” and her anger towards Marilyn vitriolic: “You are milk, froth, cotton candy.”

Both characters are overseen, soothed, jollied and cajoled by the incredible down-to-earth Patti, played utterly convincingly by Pauline Knowles who ultimately lies, cheats and keeps her head down because she too works for The Studio.

The set is pure 30s glamour and glitz – silver art nouveau ornaments with white luxury cushions – and a blown up photo of dead Marilyn on the side wall.

The production (a co-production with Citizens Theatre, Glasgow) zips along with passionate intensity until Marilyn puts an end to her tortured life and is escorted into the sunset by – and here’s the curious thing – the black actor / stage manager who has been dotting in and out, moving furniture and props, clasping her shoes unto his breast tenderly and exchanging knowing smiles with her.

All along the piece, it seems like his role will develop.  He is dressed as a servant; it seems like he’s playing a role of silent black observer; as caught up in the chains of working for The Man as Marilyn, yet always operating in the shadows as her secret black companion, perhaps lover and comforter.  But the role just fizzles out.  Worse, he is conspicuous by his absence at curtain call.

When turning to the programme, he is name-checked as Barry Ford in the ‘Cast List’ but no biography or production credits are available on either the Cast, Creative Team or Staff Lists at The Lyceum or The Citizens Theatre websites or programmes.

In this post-Stephen Lawrence era, one would hope that black actors are not still being stereotyped into servant / gangster roles or worse, failing to get credit for their contributions in theatre.

Are we to believe that black people are as invisible in Scottish theatre as they were 100 years ago, or more (bar the exceptionally rare roles written by the bard and a few others)?  Are we to advise young black Scottish hopefuls that there are no jobs or roles in Scottish theatre?

On enquiry, the Lyceum Theatre states:

“Barry Ford is an Assistant Stage Manager at the Citizens Theatre. When the show was rehearsing at the Citizens the director Philip Howard decided they needed an ASM to be onstage to move the props around. Barry was available as an ASM to fulfill this for the production, and then the transfer to the Lyceum. He was in costume, in keeping with the play, which isn’t unusual as we have done this in numerous productions. The ASM aren’t included in curtain calls as they are not cast.”

Developing News

The Citizens Theatre states:

“Further to the statement made by our co-producing partners, the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, we would like to re-iterate that both companies are equal opportunities employers. Barry Forde has been an Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) at the Citizens Theatre for the last 3 years, having been recruited to the theatre through our trainee scheme. The ASM role is a technical position as part of the backstage production team. In addition to technical duties, ASM’s are frequently requested to move props on stage and take part in group scenes.  This often involves them being in costume to fit in with the action. The Director of the show requested that the ASM be involved in key scenes of Marilyn where props were required to be moved.  Whoever was the ASM on the show would have fulfilled that role. In this case it was Barry Forde and he continued in that role when the show transferred to Edinburgh.”

I would also like to explain that it is standard practice for ASM’s to not take curtain calls with the Cast as they are part of the technical team.  At the Citizens Theatre, Barry was credited as Assistant Stage Manager in our Citizens Company full staff list.  As it was not appropriate for him to be part of the Lyceum’s staff list, it was requested that he get an acknowledgement elsewhere within the production credits of the programme. That is why his name appears as it does in the Lyceum programme.  If this confused or misled we can only apologise and reiterate again that Barry is very much part of the technical team on the show.”

Yet he was clearly labelled as Cast in the programme.

What do you think is the issue?  Is it harder to get a job in theatre as a black person in Scotland?

Spencer the Painter - now a bus driver

Rodd Christensen, a Scottish-based black actor, won a BAFTA for Balamory but now drives a bus. Check here and here

© Fin Wycherley

You can also find this review on STV Edinburgh here

Show: Marilyn, Venue: Lyceum Theatre Run: 15th March – 2nd April 2011

Times: Evenings: 7.45pm Tuesdays-Saturdays Ends approx 9.40pm Matinees: 2.30pm Wednesdays and Saturdays (16, 19, 23, 26 Mar and 2 Apr) Ends approx 4.25pm

Related Articles

Joyce McMillan here

Onstage Scotland here

Lothian Life here

The List here

The Stage here

The Telegraph here

The Guardian here

The Independent here


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