I can never be mad at a retelling of Marilyn Monroe’s life that starts with a jab at the recent Netflix show ‘Blonde’, based on the equally risible ‘fictional biography’ of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates. So much of what has been written, dramatised and expounded on Marilyn over the years could be classed as fictionalised biography, each writer presenting their own version of the mythical Monroe. Each ‘Marilyn’ a photocopy of the last, slightly altered, like Warhol’s prints. She has become in our pop culture sub-consciousness more than a movie star, or even an icon – a chimera, an avatar for all our desires, paranoia and neurosis.
Olivia Denton does a great job in Norma of unpacking all of this and condensing it into a neat 50 minutes of refreshingly factual story telling, using Marilyn’s own words as the jumping off point. Laced with direct quotations, the original parts of the script provide context, wit and poignancy without ever straying into novelisation or overwrote metaphors. Her performance captures just the right amount of vocal, verbal and physical mannerisms that it is a recognisable rendition, particularly to anyone who has watched or listened to her interviews outside of movie roles. However, crucially, it is a portrayal of Marilyn herself, not Lorelei Lee or Sugar Kane and she dials down the breathy voice just enough that it never becomes a caricature.
The time went too quickly and with the perfect mixture of joy and sadness, I could have easily spent another hour in this Marilyn’s company. I won’t spoil how the show ends, but it skilfully sidesteps the many lurid theories surrounding her death and I applaud the humanity and genuine care with which Denton approached the subject matter. I finished the show with a smile on my face and a slight tear in my eye.
All words by Susan Sloan.