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Lights up on Dickie Beau: Blackouts at Soho Theatre

Repost: with One Stop Arts closing, I migrated this review here.

At the Soho Theatre, Dickie Beau evokes beautiful and dangerous pictures of two of our most famous screen idols, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland. This production asks us to revisit our memories of these larger-than-life figures and tear back the curtain – or slap on the greasepaint.

Aptly titled Blackouts (Twilight of the Idols), Dickie Beau’s cabaret for the Soho Theatre is a meditation on the darkness inherent in fame. Beau subtly tackles the disturbing nature of our continued fascination with fame and the ambivalence we feel about the famous. At an ephemeral 60 minutes, it is brief but intense – like the margaritas at the theatre bar.

The show opens with Dickie Beau re-enacting portions of Richard Meryman’s final interview with Marilyn Monroe which took place in 1962 shortly before her death. Beau doesn’t simply lip-sync along to Monroe’s portions of the interview, he slowly and painstakingly brings to life Meryman’s experience of interviewing her. Meryman’s fascination with and intimidation by her become increasingly evident. This is about Meryman, and Meryman as a stand-in for all of us, as much as it is about Monroe.

Beau enters in white face and a white outfit, introducing us first to Richard Meryman. Through the first part of the show we return again and again to Meryman in what must be a later interview, one in which Meryman recounts both the final interview with Marylin Monroe, her demands for control over the copy and her seriousness about how she is represented, and, later, his experience of the aftermath of her death.

There are some stunning moments in Beau’s enactment of Meryman: reams of paper tape spilling from his mouth as he recounts how much material he has kept on tape alone, material that the public has never yet seen. As Meryman is describing Monroe’s house where the final interview took place, Beau opens a small white pop-up book of a house and places it centre stage.

There are various objects scattered about: a chair, a table with a speaker on it, an old-fashioned enormous tape recorder, a box with costumes. In front of the minimalist set is a black scrim onto  which projections are occasionally made. Marty Langthorne’s lighting gives the whole thing a shadowy ambience, like a flickering dream. The sound, though, and Beau’s superb interaction with it, is the lifeblood of this production.

Throughout all this, Marilyn begins to emerge. At first it’s just small – the occasional mannerism, the flick of a hand, the lift of the ribcage. Then Beau applies fake eyelashes, black eyeliner, red lipstick. Beau dons the dress – you know, the dress – and there she is: beautiful, vulnerable, everyone’s fantasy, the little dove destroyed through wanting her. And then she is gone.

The second part of the show is excerpts from a series of self-recorded tapes by Judy Garland. Naturally, this is performed in a red dress, red wig, red striped stockings and shiny red shoes. This is Garland at her most feral, Garland refusing to hold back her bitterness at the world and the situation in which she has found herself. It is painful to watch these sequences of Garland slurring through her self-conducted interview, becoming increasingly agitated about her children and about her past. Her anger at her sense of entrapment is palpable. Beau’s style shifts to address the audience more directly now with the result that, far more than in the Monroe sequence, there is a sense that you are responsible for the red fury before you.

The show comes to a rather thrilling climax involving a knife and the literal breaking of the fourth wall, so definitely sit down the front. You won’t regret it.

Originally reviewed for One Stop Arts on 19 July 2013.