Brighton Fringe 2015
Award Winners at last year’s Brighton Fringe for ‘The Crucible’, Pretty Villain Productions are back with a brand new play from acclaimed Radio 4 playwright Roy Smiles.
Reno, Nevada. The divorce capital of America, and scene of Marilyn Monroe’s last film, The Misfits. The apartment of Monroe and Arthur Miller is the setting for a very dark look at the ending of a legend, and the death of a marriage.
Roy Smiles’ paints a picture of sex icon that is full of intelligence even as she drools pill-fueled vitriol at Miller, a Jew in sexual awe and hunger, laced with addicted loyalty and a dubious portion of love, played convincingly by Robert Cohen.
Smiles’ Miller comes off somewhat better in this study of two souls in different kinds of torment than Monrow – he, blocked as a writer, she, in a descent into mental turmoil and illness that began in the child abuse of foster care. Yes, it is a very dark play, dipped in wit and the verbal battle between writer and actor, entangled lover and sex symbol.
There’s sharp comedy as the two verbally battle and banter. Monroe’s addiction to drugs and booze fires a devil tongue that uses Miller as a ready target and punch bag. He has learned to no longer even flinch. Over the hour I found the shadows in the writing drowning out the light and Smiles has kept any warmth and tenderness bwtween the two, to a bare minimum. Here on the film sets of of the dry Nevada heat we have an arid desert of a relationship, played out over an hour at the Rialto Theatre.
Mark Brailsford has brought out two very fine performances from the actors. The Misfits, Miller’s first film script following his own creative desert as a playwright. Monroe would star alongside Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift, yet she cannot make it onto the set today. There’s something teasingly Becket-like about the way the scenes are played out. "Ms Monroe will not be on set today, but surely tomorrow…" Occasionally there were stuimbles with the script and the chemistry between the two performers broke. I think that will be resolved over a longer run.
The apartment is realised in a very claustrophic way. Miller and Monroe have only each other for material, for banter, as resources, on this night, and there simply isn’t enough to go round. As they fall verbally upon each other, the cleverness of Smiles’ design reveals.
Lauren Varnfield doesn’t look too much like Monroe but plays her very believably, in a well observed character portrayal that never falls into caricature. Cohen looks like Miller and is understated in just the right way. That’s the huge strength of this production. The fast paced, clever, well observed, writing of Smiles could easily tempt a director and cast into exaggeration and emotional over-loudness. The script pulls no punches with these characters and it would be easy for the whole enterprise to become nasty and plain dark. The actors pull back from that and become nuanced, gently vulnerable, hurt but rarely wounded. There’s some excellent timing in their reactions, sccustations and emotional interplay. Both Cohen and Varnfield show us different kinds of defeat and, in places, its very effective, even shattering.
Occasionally the dark writing, which reveals the research that underpins this work, overbalances the piece into negativity, especially in the way Monroe is portrayed, But rarely for long. This is transactional dialogue – you then me – banter and battle. Monroe is more the accuser, Miller more the jilted bed partner, heading for the inevitable door. Both are horrendously trapped, blocked, paralysed. It makes for very engaging drama and I felt as if I were in the room with them on that single night in the Nevada heat.Strong performances, excellent direction and a bold script from Smiles that adds to his already acclaimed repertoire. Reno is highly recommended.