Hot Lips and Cold War at London Theatre Workshop
There is always an element of risk involved when narrating the stories of world-famous icons. Extra effort should be employed to avoid clichés and, ideally, such stories should be told from an original angle that can surprise and perhaps even educate the audience. Hot Lips and Cold War, the musical depicting the John F Kennedy, Jackie O and Marilyn Monroe love triangle, heads straight for the stereotypes and clings to them from beginning to end. Lazy in its research and execution of one of the most salient moments in recent history, the play makes caricatures out of the infamous trio, and reduces their lives to a sad and superficial vignette.
The leading character of the play is Maria, a young and innocent Irish girl who becomes intimate with a White House employee she meets in Ireland and who, within days and without references, finds herself in the US, living at the president’s abode, as the First Lady’s employee and closest confidante. Jackie wants Maria to gather photographic evidence of Kennedy’s affair with Marilyn Monroe, and while this may seem like an intriguing mission, everyone in the White House is aware of the relationship, and the actress is seen freely walking in and out of the house, making the task somewhat redundant. Unsurprisingly, the photography subplot is eventually dropped, and the focus turns to a race-related story that sees Maria befriend the maid’s son Marvin, who is unfairly accused of a crime.
The far-fetched fictional narrative, mixed with an underwhelming representation of real-life characters, makes the piece not only disappointing, but also potentially detrimental in the way it recycles stereotypes. Marilyn is a two-dimensional bombshell and Kennedy a full-time womaniser, and some dialogues lack believability to the point of becoming unintentionally humorous (such as the moment Marilyn proclaims in front of a group of White House staff that she hopes to have a private encounter with Kennedy following the public ceremony they are both attending).
The plot leaves much to be desired from a technical perspective, too, with many awkward exits and entrances, unjustified actions and illogical sequences. As for the musical aspect, the melodies are for the most part repetitive and forgettable. The cast would no doubt deliver more with a stronger plot and a more solid direction, but Hot Lips and Cold War does not seem to have a specific goal in terms of what it wishes to express, making it difficult for the actors to transmit any believable emotion.
Photo: Jamie Scott-Smith
Hot Lips and Cold War is at London Theatre Workshop from 30th January until 24th February 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.