Tag Archives: Declan Bennett



Park Theatre



“Genevieve Gaunt captures the mannerisms and the breathy vocals without resorting to cliché”

Vicki McKellar and Guy Masterson’s “The Marilyn Conspiracy” is an intricately structured new drama, that undulates chronologically. Like a pendulum, swinging between the ‘before’ and ‘after’; in the centre of which lies the tragic and untimely death of Marilyn Monroe. The play hangs above the events like the sword of Damocles, waiting to fall and slice through the rumours, the scandal and conspiracy theories to get to the truth. Although when it does drop, the penetration is only skin deep. The writing and the performances are incisive, but the writers prefer to leave the outer layers unscathed. We are never entirely sure whether to trust their version of events or to draw our own conclusions.

Sixty years on from her death, the jury is still out. Officially ruled as probable suicide, no evidence of foul play was found. Despite the coroner’s findings, several conspiracy theories have been proposed. The case was reviewed in 1982 but the original findings were upheld. Masterson, who also directs, lays on the evidence of foul play thick and fast, presenting us with a very filmic piece of theatre that grips throughout – enhanced by Jack Arnold’s moody and atmospheric compositions. Film Noir meets Columbo, with touches of Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie. ‘Who Killed Monroe’ could be a suitable subtitle as motive and opportunity are relayed around the room like a tense game of ‘pass the parcel’. Threats said in the heat of the moment are later forensically picked apart and used as, not just evidence, but proof. As details leak, suspicions grow, and fingers point. Lies are uncovered, but then covered up before you can say ‘Happy Birthday’ to a president.

Monroe is such an icon that has unfortunately become a caricature in the public’s memory. However, Genevieve Gaunt captures the mannerisms and the breathy vocals without resorting to cliché. We get a real feel of her playfulness as well as her histrionics and instability. To a lesser extent we glimpse the savvy side of Monroe’s character, the emphasis being on the trivial gossip. Which is a delight. Giggling and spicy conversations with her close friend Pat Newcomb (Susie Amy – in wonderful form as loyal defender, supporter and confidant) provide comic relief from the dark revelations revealed posthumously.

McKellar has clearly done her research. The source material is wide, yet she focuses on quite a narrow part of the picture, leading Robert and John Kennedy centre stage without actually bringing either of them onto the stage. Instead, we have their sister Patricia and her husband Peter Lawford as a kind of good-cop-bad-cop duo. Declan Bennett’s Peter is the closest we have to the villain of the piece: his brothers’ lackey sent to staunch a leak that could topple the administration. Having failed, more drastic measures are needed – and therein lies the crux of the narrative. The stakes are high, and the skilled performances raise them higher still as the cast navigate the sharp and penetrating narrative structure. A special mention must be made of last-minute replacement, Natasha Colenso, as Patricia Kennedy-Lawford. A pre-show announcement explained that she would be on the book, but you had to look very hard indeed to notice.

Everybody thinks they know everything about Marilyn Monroe, and consequently has their own theory about her demise. This show sheds little light on the heroine herself, but it does authentically portray the dubious afterglow of her departure. Very much character lead, it is above all a beguiling study in political coercion and one’s willingness to bow down to it. Sally Mortemore’s nuanced depiction of Monroe’s housemaid, Eunice Murray, is a prime and realistically disturbing example of this dichotomy.

We may not be presented with undisputed fact, but we feel that we are dangerously close to it. McKellar takes us behind closed doors and shows us the intricate mechanisms of the quintessential ’cover up’. When the pieces come together, whether true or not, what we have is ‘history’. It’s a daunting concept. “The Marilyn Conspiracy” perhaps treats this concept with a bit too much bias and preconception. But the mix of polemic and entertainment value is perfectly balanced. A thrilling piece of theatre.



Reviewed on 24th June 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by NUX Photography




Previously reviewed at this venue:

IVO GRAHAM: CAROUSEL | ★★★★ | June 2024
A SINGLE MAN | ★★★★ | May 2024
SUN BEAR | ★★★ | April 2024
HIDE AND SEEK | ★★★★ | March 2024
COWBOYS AND LESBIANS | ★★★★ | February 2024
HIR | ★★★★ | February 2024
LEAVES OF GLASS | ★★★★ | January 2024
KIM’S CONVENIENCE | ★★★★ | January 2024
21 ROUND FOR CHRISTMAS | ★★★★ | December 2023
THE TIME MACHINE – A COMEDY | ★★★★ | December 2023
IKARIA | ★★★★ | November 2023
PASSING | ★★★½ | November 2023



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The View Upstairs

Soho Theatre

The View Upstairs

The View Upstairs

Soho Theatre

Reviewed – 25th July 2019



“It does all become a touch stereo-typed, and the crying scenes lead too predictably into the love scenes”


This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York; widely considered to be the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights. We have come a long way as a society since then, but Max Vernon argues in the musical “The View Upstairs” that we still have a long way to go. He spearheads his argument by sending the central character Wes (Tyrone Huntley) back in time to 1973, overlapping past and present. We are reminded of the television series, ‘Life on Mars’ as Vernon’s script makes frequent use of jokes and dramatic irony about a future that the audience already knows, but which the characters of 1973 do not.

Sometimes the device works too well, and we are left with an overpowering sense of nostalgia for the past that conflicts with the intended message of the piece. Wes, a present-day fashion designer, is buying a burnt out building in New Orleans and, for reasons that are not remotely touched upon, he is transported back in time and he finds himself in the Upstairs Lounge; a real-life gay bar that was the target of a homophobic arson attack that took the lives of thirty-two people – the deadliest attack in the U.S. until the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, but one which was ignored by the wider American media and public.

The musical is a celebration of the regulars of the bar – a disparate band of odd folk sharing drinks and wisecracks in a kind of queer ‘Cheers’. Lee Newby’s lavishly ramshackle set evokes perfectly the time and territory we are in. As does Vernon’s score which is snappy and uplifting and, although not exactly memorable, stirs memories within ourselves. Presiding over the bar is John Partridge’s ‘Buddy’, the resident pianist who becomes ‘straight’ whenever he goes home to his wife and kids. Partridge cleverly conveys the mixture of resentment, embarrassment and liberation of the closet gay of that time. Other stand-outs are Garry Lee’s Freddy; burly builder by day and drag queen by night, and his biggest fan – his mother (a very watchable Victoria Hamilton-Barritt). Love interest Patrick, played by Andy Mientus, gives Huntley’s Wes a run for his money, while Declan Bennett’s bitter Dale injects a much-needed dose of menace. It does all become a touch stereo-typed, and the crying scenes lead too predictably into the love scenes. But we are eventually shaken out of any sense of complacency towards the final scenes, especially if you don’t know all the historical facts beforehand.

But what carries the show are the performances. A lot of numbers are packed into this one act musical but the energy and vocal agility of all the cast provide the spark that sets this piece ablaze, despite the dampening effects of some over-familiar moralising.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Darren Bell


The View Upstairs

Soho Theatre until 24th August


Previously reviewed at this venue:
No Show | ★★★★ | January 2019
Garrett Millerick: Sunflower | ★★★★ | February 2019
Soft Animals | ★★★★ | February 2019
Angry Alan | ★★★★ | March 2019
Mouthpiece | ★★★ | April 2019
Tumulus | ★★★★ | April 2019
William Andrews: Willy | ★★★★★ | April 2019
Does My Bomb Look Big In This? | ★★★★ | May 2019
Hotter | ★★★★★ | May 2019
Citysong | ★★★★ | June 2019


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