REVIEW: Goodbye Norma Jeane, Above the Stag

Nostalgic and entertaining, Liam Burke’s play shines a wonderful light on the career of Jack Cole.

You might not be familiar with the name Jack Cole, but you will certainly recognise some of his work in classic films such as ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ and ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’ – which is highlighted in this warmly nostalgic play by Liam Burke.

Set in 1962 when the world found out about the death of Marilyn Monroe, choreographer and “father of Theatrical Jazz Dance” Jack Cole is reflecting on his career – the highs and the lows, while being visited by some of the famous stars that he worked with in the past. While frank and brutal in places, what emerges in Burke’s play is a surprisingly heartfelt and intimate look at a person whose achievements in the world of Hollywood were at times overlooked and the harshness of working in Hollywood during the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s with all its prejudice.

Throughout all the stories that are unearthed in this play, including a horrific story about how Margarita Carmen Cansino became Rita Hayworth, you get a sense of a real conflict of just how Jack Cole felt about Hollywood and its power to transform people.

Robert McWhir’s production is lively and affectionate from start to finish, drawing the audience in thanks to Stewart J Charlesworth’s cosy living room set, but has a tendency to feel slightly rushed – particularly in the first act that doesn’t give the audience enough time to understand the characters. This is down in part to the abruptness of stars such as Jane Russell and Rita Hayworth entering and leaving Jack’s apartment which doesn’t for some reason quite sit well and making it come across lacking in finesse.

But despite this, Goodbye Norma Jeane is a wonderfully nostalgic look at the world of Hollywood – filled with fascinating stories about all those involved, in particular the references to the making of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and the way in which Jack encouraged Norma Jeane (Marilyn Monroe) to go even bigger and better provide an interesting insight.

Tim English as Jack Cole is wonderfully charismatic as he switches from being lost in fond memories to anger at the way Hollywood treated him and Marilyn at different points as well as the different ways in which he treated the likes of Betty Grable and Jane Russell for example is engaging to watch. Meanwhile, Rachel Stanley as the seven Hollywood icons featured delivers a lively and charming characterisation of each, capturing each of their unique personalities brilliantly.

Overall, Goodbye Norma Jeane is a wonderfully entertaining and nostalgic look at Hollywood and those caught up in it. Despite some flaws in the play and the way in which it includes the stars of the era, it is still worthy viewing particularly if you love your classic films or dream of Hollywood in its golden years.

By Emma Clarendon

Goodbye Norma Jeane continues to play at Above the Stag until the 7th April.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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