The Marilyn Conspiracy review – Park Theatre, London ★★★★☆

Genevieve Gaunt as Marilyn Monroe in the Marilyn Conspiracy. Photo: NUX Photography

Review by Katie Shaw

REST IN PEACE, Patricia Kennedy-Lawford, you would have loved iPads (If you know, you know). In all seriousness, props to Natasha Colenso who stepped up last minute into the role of Patricia Kennedy-Lawford, and the entire cast who blew me away with their stellar performances of Marilyn Monroe and seven of her inner circle. Set in an unspecified room in Marilyn’s house, a light brown chaise lounge, two wicker chairs draped in blankets, a record player, a table stacked with books and a LIFE magazine- though I couldn’t quite make out who graced the cover – and a retro, white wired telephone stood to symbolise the private glamour of Monroe era 1960s.

Genevieve Gaunt shines as Marilyn Monroe, an icon of the Golden Hollywood age, who tragically lost her life in 1962, aged 36. The circumstances of her death have forever stumped historians, popular culture fanatics, and Monroe’s closest circle alike. Mass speculation over the circumstances of the actress’ death has circulated for decades. Did the star simply overdose? Was there foul play involved? Did one of the Kennedy brothers murder her? Or did the CIA play a role in her death? Enter: The Marilyn Conspiracy. Written by Vicki McKellar and Guy Masterson, this brilliantly engaging play dramatises the final days and hours of Marilyn Monroe’s life. Each scene transitions between the hours leading up to her death, and the five crucial hours after her death, where seven of her friends try to piece together the timeline and events of what happened. 

With Gaunt leading in the titular role, the cast also stars Susie Amy as Pat Newcomb, Monroe’s publicist, Sally Mortemore as Eunice Murray, Marilyn’s housemaid, Declan Bennett as Peter Lawford and his wife Patricia Kennedy-Lawford, played by Colenso, sister to Bobby and John F. Kennedy;  Maurey Richards as Dr Hyman Engelberg, Monroe’s physician, and David Calvitto as Dr Ralph Greenson, Monroe’s psychiatrist, with Angela Bull portraying his wife, Hildi. Despite a couple of the actors not quite coming in on cue at various stages, ultimately the cast gave a convincing and emotive performance in exploring one of Hollywood’s greatest mysteries. 

Susie Amy (L) as Pat Newcombe and Genevieve Gaunt as Marilyn Monroe (R) in the Marilyn Conspiracy. Photo: NUX Photography

The dynamic of the seven friends reminded me of a classic Agatha Christie plot, blended with 12 Angry Men. Meeting in Marilyn’s home, with grief and tensions running high, nobody could quite agree on what to tell the police about the circumstances of Marilyn’s death and, at one point, fingers were pointed amongst the friends as to who might have played a role in their dear friends’ death. This made for a captivating and engaging play, interspersed with cryptic undertones which I find to be perfectly symbolic of the enigma surrounding Monroe’s life and death.

Aside from Gaunt’s beautifully sincere and honest performance as our heroine, what stole the show for me was the hostile dynamic between Peter Lawford and Pat Newcomb. Exceptionally portrayed by Declan Bennett and Susie Amy, the tension in their exchanges was captivating, compelling, and breathtaking all at once. I truly felt as though I was witnessing an emotionally charged conversation – or disagreement – between two grieving friends.  

The Marilyn Conspiracy serves as a stark reminder of the influence that masculine power and politics played in Monroe’s life. Most of the group concede that Bobby Kennedy couldn’t possibly be to blame despite significant evidence to the contrary, for fear of tainting the Kennedy name and their political reputation, and risking impeachment for President Kennedy. It is Marilyn’s diary that stands at the forefront of the mystery of the play and of this reputational tarnishing, and the back and forth bickering over the ownership of the diary only fuels this mystery. What could Marilyn possibly have on Bobby Kennedy? It is Peter Lawford who acts as ringleader to this narrative, clashing with Pat Newcomb who seems to be the only one of the seven friends who stands and fights for integrity whilst unravelling the circumstances of her dear friend’s death. Sadly, it seems that even Monroe’s death must be scrutinised and ultimately decided for her by the men in her life.

As the lights fell for the final time at the Park Theatre, Gaunt sang an eerie tune in a classic Monroe manner which was the perfect outro for a perfectly eerie and tense play. The audience, myself included, erupted in whoops and cheers for this exceptional play. A must-see – especially if you’re fascinated by Marilyn Monroe, conspiracy theories or a classic case of whodunnit!

The Marilyn Conspiracy is at the Park Theatre, London until 27 July