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Review: Insignificance, at Arcola Theatre

Albert Einstein takes on the unlikely role of marriage counsellor during a fictional encounter with Marilyn Monroe

26 October, 2017 — By Catherine Usher

Simon Rouse and Alice Bailey Johnson in Insignificance. PHOTOS: ALEX BRENNER

A FICTIONAL encounter between Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe in a New York hotel room reflects on the personalities of two of the most famous faces of the 20th century, abandoning historical facts in favour of entertainment.

Alice Bailey Johnson expertly captures the essence of Marilyn – her breathy voice, her star quality and her aspiration to be taken seriously, while Simon Rouse is spectacular as the awkward academic, who is baffled yet intrigued to find the movie goddess bursting into his bedroom in the middle of the night.

The discussion about the theory of relativity between an eager-to-learn Monroe and a naturally nurturing Einstein is surprisingly joyful.

At the heart of the tale is Einstein and Marilyn’s unlikely but believable friendship. Although the setting is fictitious, all audience members will know the four main characters to some degree.

The play, written by Terry Johnson and directed by David Mercatali, is set in the autumn of 1954, when Marilyn is filming the subway grate scene for The Seven Year Itch. She’s married to Joe DiMaggio (Oliver Hembrough) but their relationship is fraught and volatile, with DiMaggio seemingly ill-equipped to handle his wife’s movie star status.

Hembrough projects DiMaggio’s despair and frustration convincingly, and the way the couple steer Einstein into the role of marriage counsellor adds humour to the sense of desperation.

Tom Mannion as the threatening senator Joseph McCarthy is suitably dastardly, especially in his dealings with Monroe. As he manhandles and humiliates the actress who seems unsure of how to respond, it’s shameful to acknowledge that over 60 years later, this behaviour is alive and well in Hollywood.

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