Marilyn and Sinatra, Jermyn Street Theatre, London ★

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

In terms of post-war Hollywood, there are hardly two figures more iconic than Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra. Their entangled personal lives, as they danced around each other even as they were married to other people, has the scope for a fascinating look at such larger-than-life figures, especially given Monroe’s tragic descent and early death. What a pity, then, that writer/director Sandro Monetti works his hardest to remove all sense of drama from, and interest in, their doomed relationship.

Bounding on stage at the start of the press night performance, Monetti explains that the play his based on his research, and the premise of the play is based upon the audio recordings that Monroe’s therapist suggested she record. That a playwright should feel the need to explain the premise is worrying – although given there is nothing in the script to explain why the two characters spend most of their time delivering monologues to the audience and rarely interacting with each other, the play obviously needs some form of explanation.

As it is, we are presented with two narrations, starting from the first falterings of Monroe’s marriage to Joe DiMaggio. In her spoken role, Erin Gavin captures the breathy, seductive tones that Monroe used on screen, although there is more devotion to the accent than to its volume, rendering some lines inaudible even within the tiny confines of the Jermyn Street Theatre. There are the signs of vulnerability there, despite Monetti’s clunkingly obvious script, and although her attempts to sing the actress’s trademark songs I Wanna Be Loved By You and Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend are beset with timing issues, one does wish that Gavin (a co-producer of this show) had better material with which to develop her impersonation.

While Gantz is visually and audibly like her real life character, the same can not be said of Jeff Bratz’s Sinatra. Tall and wiry where the real Sinatra was rather more pugilistic, Bratz has far fewer lines in which to convince us of his character and generally chooses to let a curled lip and insouciant air do the work of reminding us that this man is supposed to be one of the world’s most famous actors and singers. In his several singing numbers, that casual nonchalance works better, but there is still a gap between actor and subject that a play based on two real-life people should ever have to bear.

In choosing to have the vast majority of events narrated by the characters direct to the audience rather than played out – or even discussed – by the show’s eponymous duo, we end up with what feels like encyclopaedia entries edited into the first person. Mercifully, the whole sorry mess wraps itself up in under an hour – and as Marilyn drinks and drugs herself into oblivion, one finds oneself wishing one could do the same.

Runs until August 21.