Insignificance, 4****, London

by Terry Johnson.

The Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London E8 3DL to 18 November 2017.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat 3pm. Wed Nov 15 3pm.
Runs 2 hr One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: William Russell 24 October.

Sad but funny look at the price of fame

The action takes place I n a New York hotel room Albert Einstein, in town for a meeting of the Un-American Actitivities Committee, is resisting attempts by Senator Joe McCarthy to get him to testify in the manner he wants. The Senator, a bluff, sweaty and menacing Tom Mannion, is man of power who will not hesitate to use it. Einstein – a fine performance from Simon Rouse – is gentle, serious and stubborn. He has no wish to join the anti-reds war being waged by McCarthy. Later Marilyn Monroe, played by Alice Bailey Johnson, bursts into his hotel room. Having discovered he is there she has come hot foot, it seems, from the set of The Seven Year Itch still in that famous white dress. She is pursued by her husband, an irate Joe DiMaggio, played by Oliver Hembrough.

Terry Johnson’s 1982 fantasy stands up remarkably well in this its first revival in London for 20 years It is about the nature of celebrity, about star worship, the price of survival and given that political and social life today is still dominated by the worship of celelebrity and what it demands of those who acquire it remains relevant.

Monroe, played with charm and sweetness by Alice Bailey Johnson – Marilyn impersonators are a dime a dozen but this is a fully thought through characterisation – is cleverer than one might think. She reads to improve herself, she has read Einstein’s work, and she understands his theory of relativity. She is also painfully clear about the price one paid for stardom and is willing to pay it. Einstein, however, is not and she does not want him to.

Enchanted by her, Einstein treats her as would an old fashioned gentleman. They are interrupted by a furious Di Maggio demanding to know what is going on. Obsessed with his own fame, he is shown as basically stupid, but as someone who knows it, a man longing for an heir. Oliver Hembrough manages to covey his essentially waving not drowning state.
The lines are funny, the direction by David Mercatali assured and the performances work together because the play is an ensemble piece if nothing else. As for its message, that nobody is insignificant in the universes, that comes over loud and clear.

The Actress: Alice Bailey Johnson.
The Professor: Simon Rouse.
The Senator: Tom Mannion.
The Ball Player: Oliver Hembrough.
Supernumeraries: Anthony Cranfield; Michael Hall; Siar Kanik.

Director: David Mercatali.
Designer: Max Dorey.
Lighting Designer: Richard Williamson.
Sound Designer: Dinah Mullen.
Costume Supervisor: Megan Rarity.

2017-10-25 15:04:24

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