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Insignificance, Arcola, review: ‘Fun to be had in imitations of the famous and the presentation of absurdity’

PUBLISHED: 13:12 30 October 2017

Insignificance: Simon Rouse and Alice Bailey Johnson, Arcola Theatre. Picture: Alex Brenner

Insignificance: Simon Rouse and Alice Bailey Johnson, Arcola Theatre. Picture: Alex Brenner

(c) Alex Brenner

It’s the 1950s and a New York hotel room is being occupied by Albert Einstein...

It’s the 1950s and a New York hotel room is being occupied by Albert Einstein (Simon Rouse).

Late at night, from the teeming streets and the hullabaloo of hysterical fandom, Marilyn Monroe (Alice Bailey Johnson) seeks sanctuary by door-stepping the scientist. His previous visitor? Senator Joseph McCarthy (Tom Mannion). Now, with the starlet pacing about his room, he must entertain company once more. Monroe, keen to dispel common perception, insists that she comprehends the theory of relativity and wants to explain it back to him.

Excitedly, she expresses her knowledge with an array of props. Caught up in the moment, she makes a pass at the veteran, before an interruption arrives in the form of a loud bang on the door. Marilyn is being chased down by her husband, Joe DiMaggio (Oliver Hembrough): the legendary baseball player. DiMaggio is flustered and his heart is aching. Unable to understand his wife on a deeper intellectual level, he is depicted as something of an unreconstructed male, albeit with a soft, sensitive side.

The strongest strand of the story rests with the failing relationship of DiMaggio and Monroe. Joseph McCarthy and Einstein might exchange fleeting and fiery theories about society, but Terry Johnson’s script is best appreciated as a light-hearted romp. Fun can certainly be had with the imitations of the famous and the presentation of an absurd situation. The performances are strong enough and exude the requisite degree of enthusiasm to drag it across the finishing line.

This is a play that embraces its surrealism with wanton abandon. Veering between tacky pastiche and weighty meditation - and sometimes both at once - it is something of a curious curate’s egg.

The main question that persists is ‘why?’ Why are we being told this tale? The narrative itself seems unsure as to what it is, and this only leads to uncertainty. To borrow from the title, it would be too pejorative and damning to call Insignificance “insignificant”, but it stops short of being substantial. It is, however, visually arresting and interspersed with a number of witty, sharp quips to garner a hearty chuckle or three.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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