Tag Archives: Mike Lees



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



Click here to see our Recommended Shows page


Salad Days – 3 Stars


Salad Days

Brighton Theatre Royal & Touring

Reviewed – 5th September 2018


“As absurd plots go, Salad Days’ story is hard to beat”


‘In 1954, the Old Vic’s artistic director Denis Carey gave Julian [Slade] and Dorothy [Reynolds] just one month to write a summer show – words, music, everything. They did it.’ So writes Adrian Slade in the programme notes for this production, and it is a helpful introduction – placing us firmly in the period, and providing a clue as to the origins of this utterly bonkers musical confection.

As absurd plots go, Salad Days’ story is hard to beat: a young couple find themselves the guardians of a magical piano which bewitches people into dancing in public; the piano goes missing and a flying saucer appears to help track it down. This is clearly not a musical that takes itself very seriously, and yet the audience requires a level of sincerity in the production, particularly in 2018, to keep the show from becoming a dusty and risible period piece. It is a hard balance to strike, and one which Regan de Wynter’s production – initially at the Union Theatre in London and now at Brighton’s Theatre Royal ahead of a UK tour – generally maintains. For the most part, the show zips along with a great deal of effervescence and charm, and laughs are in plentiful supply. The comedy works best however, when it bubbles up from the pure silliness of the plot, or springs from the deft handling of physical business – special mention here to the marvellous hairdressers scene, expertly played by Wendi Peters. The scenes which rely heavily on running gags are less successful; these are the awkward interludes in which the show’s 64 years weigh heavily.

The songs, although fun, lack the biting wit of Cole Porter or the inventive musicality of Arthur Sullivan, and the choreography is lively but unremarkable. The lighting design is similarly serviceable, and the production design lacks coherence, particularly in terms of period setting – some costumes clearly coming from the fifties, but others from the twenties and thirties. The success of this production is thus almost wholly down to its committed and energetic cast, which had to work doubly hard last night to combat some very obvious technical issues with sound quality. (As a side note, this reviewer is not convinced by the need to mike up performers in a space the size of the Theatre Royal. All the singers are clearly capable of filling the theatre vocally, unaided). Despite these setbacks, the showstoppers shine through, and there are some lovely lyrical moments too. Maeve Byrne lights up the stage with Asphynxia’s fabulous nightclub pastiche ‘Sand in my Eyes’, and Lewis McBean’s warm tenor is a delight throughout. Also noteworthy are the splendid comic characterisation and sparkling vocal quality of Francesca Pim, and the physical precision and geniality that Callum Evans brings to the mute Troppo.

Salad Days is pure nostalgia – theatrical candyfloss if you will – and Brighton’s beautiful regency Theatre Royal provides the perfect setting to jump on the carousel and indulge in a sugary treat.


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Scott Rylander



Salad Days

Brighton Theatre Royal until 8th September then touring UK



Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com