Bad stuff happens: Insignificance @arcolatheatre

Insignificance at the Arcola Theatre takes four famous people from the 1950s and puts them in a hotel room. Is it a nostalgia piece or is there a deeper meaning? Written by Terry Johnson, it’s having its first revival in over twenty years.

In the second act, the senator (meant to be Joeseph McCarthy) talks about how heroes, geniuses and stars serve as a convenient distraction. It’s also tempting to see parallels with the present day.
Thirty five years ago it was the Reagan era and the threat of nuclear war from a trigger-happy b-movie actor-president. In the intervening years there have been desert storms, coalitions of the willing (with or without poodles). In the future maybe there’ll be a battle between little rocket man and the oversized Oompa Loompa. Horrible stuff happens. And the heroes, geniuses and the celebrities exist just to make us feel there’s hope.

The piece centres around an imagined meeting between Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe late one night in a hotel room. McCarthy has given Einstein’s an ultimatum to testify to McCarthy’s House Committee on un-American activities. Monroe has finished filming the scene where her dress lifted up over a subway grate in New York. She’s run into Einstein’s room to escape. Most likely from her husband.

Recently uncovered footage from more light about that night. It suggested it was a dirty sort evening on many levels. It also led to a violent confrontation with her then husband, Joe DiMaggio. Shortly afterwards the two divorced. was recently uncovered.

But this isn’t a piece about domestic violence. Nor is it really about abuse of power. Joseph McCarthy here as if he’s a decent family man rather than a delusional alcoholic. It’s more like watching a pop-culture tribute act than a play.

On the other hand there’s enough witty one liners and funny performances to keep you entertained. Alice Bailey Johnson is hilarious as “the actress” when she’s recounting Einstein’s theory of relativity. She is also given more than a cardboard cutout character to work with with a few passing illusions to her struggles. Working hard as Einstein is Simon Rouse. Oliver Hembrough as the ball player and Tom Mannion as the senator round out the cast.

Directed by David Mercatali, Insignificance is at the Arcola Theatre until 18 November.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Photos by Alex Bremner

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