★★★★ | Hello Norma Jeane, Kings Head Theatre, Islington

The year is 2003. Joe has jetted off to Los Angeles to find and bring back to England his 76 year old grandmother, Lynne, who has escaped from the home she was living in and holed herself up in a motel in Hollywood.

When he finds her, she tells him that she is there, because the world is in dire need of some good news, and that news is that she is about to reveal that she is in fact Marilyn Monroe, that she faked her own death, and that she has been living in obscurity in Essex ever since. Is she really Marilyn or is she just fantasising? Will Joe believe here? Will we? And does it really matter one way or the other?

Dylan Costello’s amusing and often very touching play cleverly keeps us guessing. As he adds layer upon layer of detail to his tale, we are buffered one way and the other, one minute believing Lynne really is Marilyn, and the next absolutely sure that she isn’t, and we are kept guessing till the end. Ultimately though the play is not about guessing games, but about the nature of love, unconditional love; the genuine love between Joe and his grandmother, contrasted with that of Joe and his abusive, cheating boyfriend back in London. And maybe when Lynne jets off to Hollywood, she does so in the hope of making Joe see sense, of Joe finding his true self instead of living in the shadow of his boyfriend.

At the play’s centre is a performance of warmth and humour from Vicki Michelle, known worldwide for the role of Yvette in the TV sitcom Allo Allo. But this is no star turn; Michelle is one part of a talented team. Her relationship with Jamie Hutchins’s sweet, rather gauche Joe is beautifully charted, as their scenes together veer from high comedy to touching drama. Farrell Hegarty differentiates nicely between the superstar Marilyn and the young Norma Jeane, and has a great comic turn as TV hostess Carla Carlyle. Handsome Arron Blake completes an excellent cast as budding actor Bobby and Matthew Gould’s direction is unobtrusively right from beginning to end.

Hello Norma Jeane was one of five winners in Chicago based Pride Films and Plays’ Great Play Contest in 2011, and it is to be hoped that it will have a life beyond its present short season at the Kings Head in Islington.

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At the moment it is playing Sundays only at 3.15 and 7.15 until November 2nd at the Kings Head Theatre, Islington.