Marilyn: Case #81128, Jermyn Street Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

If the Marilyn Monroe who sits on the therapist's couch in Brian Stewart's latest play bears any resemblance to the original woman, then this drama truly touches on the heart of the Monroe mystery.

If the Marilyn Monroe who sits on the therapist's couch in Brian Stewart's latest play bears any resemblance to the original woman, then this drama truly touches on the heart of the Monroe mystery. Stewart portrays her as a woman who was as self-aware as she was self-destructive, and shows why someone who had such power over men could be so manipulated by them.

Stewart's representation of Monroe and her "suicide" unfolds at two speeds. The action is divided between scenes with Monroe (beautifully played by Charlotte Marisa Moore) and her psychoanalyst, Ralph Greenson, and the group that apparently assembled at Monroe's home after her death.

Stewart's simple idea that Monroe was as manipulated in death as she was in life is clear. The play starts with her death. The atmosphere at her house is hysterical and pompous. The characters range from the well-written and performed Dr Hyman Engelberg (Stephen Lester), who was Monroe's doctor, to the incidental and rather absurd Arthur Jacobs (Maurice Gleeson), an executive from Monroe's film studio. The dialogue reveals the conspiracy which may have followed Monroe's suicide. This storyline actually reveals very little apart from acknowledging that almost every person involved with Monroe had something to hide on the occasion of her death.

The narrative which follows Monroe's relationship with psychoanalyst Ralph Greenson is far more interesting. According to Stewart, Monroe came to depend heavily on Greenson in later life. Their conversations reveal a monumental level of self-deception by Monroe which contributes both to her power and fragility. His attempts to help her become obsessive. Every time she (and therefore he) fails to live up to his expectations he imposes more restrictions on her; acting as badly as the men he claims to despise in her life.

This play suffers because of the immense variation in quality of the development of the different characters and two narratives. But when it deals with the material sensitively and avoids the clichés of conspiracy theories, it manages to be both moving and original.

To 28 May (020-7287 2875)

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