Marilyn and the meaning of life

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 January, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 January, 1996, 12:00am

THE opening night of Insignificance nearly ended in disaster before it had hardly begun. Offstage banging early in the performance was actor Nigel Miles-Thomas desperately trying to extricate himself from the bathroom.

It is a good job he succeeded or poor Marilyn Monroe (Natalie Bohm) would have had to continue the strip Miles-Thomas halts by bursting on to the stage. Anyway, the trapped actor was freed in the nick of time and I'm glad he was, for the play is one of the highlights of the Fringe Festival thus far.

If you put Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio and Senator Joseph McCarthy in a New York hotel room the conversation is inevitably going to be lively. Add a Terry Johnson script and you guarantee dialogue that flies.

In this tragi-comedy, Johnson throws professor, actress, baseball player and senator into the ring to thrash out the meaning of existence - what else? Einstein (David Bluestone) is in New York to give a lecture, but is being hounded by McCarthy (Paul Haley), who has ordered him to appear before the 'UnAmerican Committee'.

Monroe (Bohm) pops in to see the professor to explain her own theory of relativity (which depends on where you are standing), while husband DiMaggio (Miles-Thomas) is banging on the door.

There is no easy way to play Monroe, over-pout and you create caricature, underplay her and you've got a dumb blonde in a big wig. Bohm, who settles in to the part, tends to the latter, portraying a sad and sinking star searching for intellect. 'This is the best conversation of my life,' she purrs to Einstein.

Einstein suggests we know too much, understand too little and sensibly agrees to sleep with Monroe.

Haley, as the steely-eyed McCarthy, admits he is no more than a 'nigger-hating boy from Louisiana' and the audience cannot fail to dislike him.

While Einstein and Monroe get the best lines, Miles-Thomas as DiMaggio delivers his with the most polish.

The play is fast and punchy, but understated. While sad and thought-provoking, the outcome is in the title. As Einstein says: 'We burn children.' Insignificance, Breakaleg Co and London City Theatre, Nestle Dairy Farm Theatre, January 24-26