Above The Stag Theatre (venue)
18 March 2019 (released)
19 March 2019
Jack Cole, Hollywood Dance Director, wakes with another hangover and starts to write his magazine column on audition tips when Marilyn Monroe's death is announced.
On the point of fading into obscurity himself, Jack tells the story of his involvement with her career. This though is no misty-eyed reminiscence - in telling his tales, Jack's outrage builds as he insists he 'created' Marilyn and the other female stars he worked with. He mourns the days when these women performed 'reverences' to him (a curtsy and prayer hands simultaneously) at the end of a day's shooting, and is furious that the Academy dropped the title of 'Dance Director' and replaced it with the lower status 'Choreographer'.
Tim English plays Jack with the sweaty, shaking sense of a permanent hangover and streak of bitterness, a man under the dawning realisation that he doesn't know who has used who. As he questions his own delusions, Jack is visited by some of the Hollywood goddesses he worked with, ably embodied by Rachel Stanley, whose stage presence conveys the glamour and grandeur of that bygone age in each character she plays. Jack confides their secrets: Betty Grable liked to bet on the horses, Rita Hayworth had her skin lightened with bleach and papaya soap. His influence extended beyond dance sequences - he fought to choose the backdrop, dancers, costumes, colour schemes, direction and editing of his numbers. Jack has plenty of tales to tell, at points breaking into his own choreography including an impressive dance battle with his ex-assistant and muse, Gwen Verdon, who went on to marry Bob Fosse taking Jack's dance style and inspiration with her.
His relationship with Marilyn is complex - he doesn't say anything pleasant about her, instead railing about how difficult she was to work with. But far from Marilyn being nothing without his work, as Jack tells it, the audience is left to question whether it is not really the other way around: we see how the industry that used his talent has taken another life, not just that of Marilyn Monroe.
Until 7 April at the Above the Stag theatre, London.