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Goodbye Norma Jeane (Susan Elkin reviews)

Goodbye Norma Jeane – ★★★
by Liam Burke
society/company: West End & Fringe (directory)
performance date: 18 Mar 2019
venue: Above the Stag. 72 Albert Embankment, Vauxhall, London SE1 7TP
reviewer/s: Susan Elkin (Sardines review)


It’s always good to see an accomplished, neatly directed two-hander although this show which runs 90 minutes with interval would do better to run 70 minutes straight through. It all feels a bit protracted as it is – not helped by starting twenty minutes late on press night.

Jack Cole (Tim English) was an influential Hollywood ‘dance director’ before the word ‘choreographer’ was coined and the job was, arguably, sidelined in the credits. He worked with the likes of Lana Turner, Betty Grable, Gwen Verdon – and Marilyn Monroe, who is never referred to by her stage name. Liam Burke’s play presents Cole, having just heard of Monroe’s death, reflecting on his career, visited by and remembering the women he has worked with all of whom are entertainingly and convincingly played by Rachel Stanley. Above the Stag is London’s specialist LGBTQ theatre but there is only the tiniest, not very relevant, nod to Cole’s gay-ness in this play.

Both actors are accomplished. English is very natural and the intimacy of the Above the Stag studio space lends itself well to long passages of monologue. Stanley – after the manner of Alex Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets – keeps appearing in different outfits and, with skilled mimicry really does manage to convey the essence of the seven screen icons she’s depicting. I especially noted and admired her voice work. These women hailed from different parts of the US and Stanley has worked hard at getting it right. There are some effective moments of informal dance round Cole’s sitting room too.

That said, this play is a bit slight. It explores a few issues – such as the importance of choreography and its ‘ownership’ – but the narrative is thin and the play doesn’t really go anywhere much. And it isn’t helped by being staged in a railway arch theatre. This was my first visit to Above the Stag and I found the thundering trains overhead very distracting. If this had been Macbeth it might have been atmospheric but in a play set in a sunny condo with a swimming pool outside (imaginative set by Stewart J Charlesworth) it is quite the opposite.

 First published by Sardines:
Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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