Why we are still fascinated by Marilyn Monroe in remarkable farewell play

It is a gift of a part. An absolute dream role,” says Lizzie Wort, of playing screen icon Marilyn Monroe in Dyad Productions’ The Unremarkable Life Of Marilyn Monroe

LIZZIE Wort had written off Marilyn Monroe. “I really wasn’t very interested in her,” she says. “I had always thought she was kind of fun and frivolous.”

Then, however, writer-director Elton Townend Jones asked her to play Marilyn in The Unremarkable Death Of Marilyn Monroe.

“It is a gift of a part. An absolute dream role,” says Lizzie. So much so that Lizzie, trained ballet dancer, former comic entertainer, actor and mother, has returned to that dream role for St Albans company Dyad Productions’ latest tour, visiting Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, on Sunday night.

The date is August 5 1962, on Marilyn’s last night, at her 12305 Fifth Helena Drive home in Brentwood, Los Angeles. Marilyn as never seen before: alone in her bedroom in a dressing gown and underwear; no glitz, no glamour, no masks.

Overdosed on pills, the woman behind the icon unravels her remarkable life and travels back through the memories of her closest relationships. Repeatedly stalked by a mysterious caller, the Hollywood icon tells all – about Joe DiMaggio, Clark Gable, Arthur Miller, her mother – revealing a biting intelligence and an imperfect body, leading in real time to the moment of her death.

“Elton was very clear from the beginning that he wanted us to find a Marilyn that was recognisable as the well-loved icon, but also had a different, previously unseen side to her. This was such a gift for me in terms of finding the characterisation,” says Lizzie, who played her previously in 2015.

“To be cast as such a huge icon felt intimidating at first, and potentially limiting, but being able to dig beneath the surface opened up so many possibilities for her and my understanding of her, which was hugely rewarding and exciting.”

Marilyn was unusual. The more I have studied her, the more clearly I see how she was essentially always able to be many things to many people,” says Lizzie Wort

Lizzie continues: “Elton has written such a tremendously well rounded, rich character, who is flawed, gets angry, is at times selfish, bitingly intelligent, wry, playful, warm and deeply soulful.

“It is a gift of a part. An absolute dream role. It also feels so relevant to women today. Marilyn was a female in a male industry in a time when women weren’t allowed a voice. And, sadly, that struggle continues. To finally give her that voice, and in doing so, give other women that chance too, was such an exciting process and journey of discovery. 

“Her experiences are relevant still today and that played a large part in forming my characterisation of her.” 

Why are we still fascinated by Marilyn Monroe, Lizzie? “There are two elements to this. One is the endless fascination we have with celebrity in general. This is referenced in the play and she makes the point herself that we all invest in celebrity stories. We want to revel in other people’s lives. It’s a fascination that has existed for a long time now.

“Marilyn’s death was unexpected and far too early. To have a young, vibrant life cut short so suddenly was shocking. People feel that they know a person, feel they are connected to them, are invested in them. To lose them so early always feel tragic and unfathomable.

“The controversy surrounding her death and the fascination over how she died continues to this day. She was a hugely popular star, made all the more famous by her death, so this keeps her as an interesting character.”

The fascination goes beyond conspiracy, suggests Lizzie. “Marilyn was unusual. The more I have studied her, the more clearly I see how she was essentially always able to be many things to many people,” she says.

“Marilyn was somehow approachable and relatable, while also being totally unobtainable,”  says Lizzie

“She had an effortless ability to draw people in. She instinctively knew how to capture people’s interest. How to charm people. She had the perfect blend of vulnerability and unbridled joy. She was hugely likeable. And that’s not actually an easy thing to accomplish as a Hollywood star. To be likeable in the truest sense. She was somehow approachable and relatable, while also being totally unobtainable.” 

Naming her favourite Marilyn film roles as The Prince And The Show Girl (1957) and The Misfits (1961), Lizzie says that what she most loved about Marilyn was her strength. “She endured so much as a child, as a young woman, from the industry, from the press, from men. She carried a huge amount of trauma within her, but still radiated warmth and joy,” she reasons.

“When someone goes through personal pain and grows up with traumatic experiences, it shapes who you are and the way you view and receive the world. It can sometimes enable a person to feel both sides of the coin.

“You can feel the pain and the torture of your experience existing deeply in your body and have a sense from childhood of the fragility of life. But, if you are lucky, that pain can also then give you an even greater appreciation of the beauty and joy of life all the more deeply. I truly think she had that appreciation.”

Lizzie’s favourite discovery about Marilyn has been to realise that her golden Hollywood smile was actually real. “Not because she was a one-dimensional blonde movie star who just smiled vacuously for the cameras. It was a smile that expressed all her pain and joy simultaneously,” she says.

“She understood life deeply. She felt it all deeply. I find that incredibly beautiful. And I think fundamentally that’s why we all love her. She radiated humanity. Heartbreak and joy in a single smile.”

Dyad Productions in The Unremarkable Death Of Marilyn Monroe, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, October 10, 7.30pm. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk

“Heartbreak and joy in a single smile”: Lizzie Wort’s essence of Marilyn Monroe

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