Insignificance

Terry Johnson

Theatr Clwyd

Emlyn Williams Theatre, Mold

From 22 September 2016 to 15 October 2016

Review by Dave Jennings

Can anyone truly find happiness? Is wealth fame and power any guarantee that the soul will reach contentment? Possibly not if measured by the tortured icons in Kate Wasserberg’s sublime production of the rarely performed Insignificance that kicks off Theatr Clwyd’s autumn season.

The Emlyn Williams Theatre is set in-the-round to portray the hotel room in which all the action unfolds; the plot is the product of Terry Johnson’s imagined interactions between "The Actress" (Marilyn Monroe), "The Ballplayer" (Joe Dimaggio), "The Senator" (Joseph McCarthy) and "The Professor" (Albert Einstein). The events take place in 1954 on the night when Marilyn Monroe has filmed the iconic scene for The Seven Year Itch where her skirt blows up around her waist.

This production starts in a chilling manner as the lights dim and the opening bars of David Bowie’s "Lazarus" ring out with the words “look up here I’m in Heaven” that adds a melancholic tinge to the evening. As the plot unfolds, the intro music seems ever more appropriate as we see the myriad insecurities and complexities of these four giants of 1950s America revealed.

If not stereotypical, then all bar one of the characters conform to the persona that we would expect. The exception is the enigmatic and almost mythical persona of "The Actress", Marilyn Monroe. However, the interactions between these characters are played out in gripping fashion by an exceptional cast who are all at the top of their game.

Christian Patterson oozes an unsettling blend of menace and righteous conviction as "The Senator" Joe McCarthy, a man who has unwittingly given his name to the practice of making unfounded and unfair allegations. The production is set at the height of the "Second Red Scare" when "witch-hunts" against alleged communist sympathisers in America were conducted in many walks of life, including the entertainment industry.

Patterson offers a brusque, blustering senator who is caught between his devotion to duty and a personal agenda against the famous as he spits “I have always loathed the famous, you may have the world fooled but to me you are of no consequence whatsoever.” His treatment of "The Actress", who he believes is a street girl masquerading as Monroe, is a graphic illustration of the vicious nature of one of history’s great bullies.

"The Professor", an Einstein struggling to reconcile what his achievements may mean for mankind, is sensitively portrayed by Brendan Charleson. Wracked by guilt for the devastation caused by the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan, his pronouncements against the Cold War led to the attentions of McCarthy who is determined to force him to testify. The scenes between them are electric as Charleson’s Professor calmly refuses the Senator's instructions, even ridiculing him at times.

Sophie Melville positively sparkles with star quality as "The Actress", caught between her public persona and a desire for self-expression beyond what may be expected of her. Wearing the famous dress from The Seven Year Itch, she is seeking a break from the constant public attention and indulging an unexpected understanding of the theory of relativity and an even more unexpected desire to sleep with "The Professor".

Her husband, Ben Deery’s testosterone-fuelled yet strangely insecure, "Ball Player", tracks her down and effectively demonstrates the nature of the controlling bully who was the cause of such misery to his wife.

Nick Beadle and Dyfan Jones create some striking effects that enhance what is already a very impressive production. See this show and ask yourself, “is fame and fortune” all it seems?