Insignificance at Arcola Theatre
The small but spacious theatre in the heart of Dalston is host to Insignificance, a revival of the 80s play written by Terry Johnson and directed by David Mercatali.
The intimate set design shows a bed in the middle, behind which are windows, a fire-escape and pinkish hues radiating through. Professor Albert Einstein (Simon Rouse) sits in the hotel, barefoot, waiting patiently. Rouse has an incredible physical likeness to the physicist, a calm demeanour, eyes shining with optimism. Senator Joseph McCarthy (Tom Mannion) known for his infamous smearing of film stars and various American citizens of the 1950s, enters, trying to prove that the scientist is a German spy. A loud fast talker, McCarthy is depicted as a smart alec, who isn’t very knowledgeable but desires to know everything, as he remarks to Einstein, “You love knowledge, I like knowing things”. Einstein’s interrogation in the middle of the night still does not make him adversely angry, but rather we see his continued composure. The Senator eventually leaves, after numerous threats.
As the physicist settles to sleep, there is another knock at the door. He asks who it is, to which we hear a bodiless voice reply, “You wouldn’t believe it”. It is in fact Marilyn Monroe (Alice Bailey Johnson). She enters, golden and glamorous, peroxide-blonde hair, fur coat, holding silver balloons, and a grocery bag. She greets him, all breathy and flirtatious. She tries to explain the theory of relativity with toy trains and torch lights, a funny scene to anyone who knows what Einstein is famous for. Through the long monologues, it can be a challenge to keep up with Monroe’s passionate science lesson, for those not wholly confident about their physics. However, this does not make the production a bore, quite the opposite in fact. We are taken up in her storm of a lesson, and it is quite endearing to see her desire to impress Einstein, even going as far as to declare, “God, this is better than sex!”. Johnson expresses Monroe’s mannerisms to a T and dispels the myth that the actress was just a blonde-haired bimbo. Monroe comes across very learned and also a person who we feel deep empathy for, as we learn that she cannot give birth to children.
The unusual night becomes even more so when the Senator faces Monroe. As he is after Einstein’s work, the film star tries to seduce McCarthy into leaving, but instead he punches her stomach, a terrible act as we learn she is pregnant. Monroe’s husband, baseball player Joe DiMaggio’s character is typical of 1950s husbands, who wants his wife to be a mother and be modest. Their marriage is suffering, and this is expressed poignantly, by both actors.
Though there have been rumours about potential affairs between Einstein and Monroe, the play doesn’t confirm or deny them. The script is put together shrewdly, with snappy one-liners, and combines perceptive drama with science surprisingly well. We feel most sympathy for Monroe, though the other characters produce empathy too. What this production is not, is insignificant.
Photo: Alex Brenner
Insignificance is at Arcola Theatre from 18th October until 18th November 2017. For further information or to book visit the Arcola Theatre website here.
Watch the trailer for Insignificance here: