Sunday, 25 June 2017

Died Dramaturgy: Joan Ellis @ Edfringe 2017

theSpace @ Jurys 15-19 Aug 5-6pm

Marilyn Monroe, movie star. Ruth Ellis, murderer. Infamous women. Famous last words, reimagined. Written and performed by award-winning writer, Joan Ellis pieces together the latest theories creating two dramatic monologues which enable these so-called dumb blondes to find their voice moments before they die.

Marilyn Monroe, JFK’s ex-mistress whispers secrets about the Kennedy clan down the phone to ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio, telling him exactly who wants her dead and why. In one neurotic, paranoid last phone call, she begs DiMaggio to save her from threats, real and imagined as she relives her past and is finally overpowered for the final time by one of the most powerful men in the USA, the President’s brother, Bobby Kennedy.

Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, alone in her cell minutes before her execution reads her letter to lover, David Blakely, justifying why she shot him. She makes no attempt to atone for her crime. Her aim is to have the last word. For once. Driven to the brink by Blakely’s constant infidelities and abuse, she was a woman who had been humiliated and beaten for the last time and sought the ultimate revenge.

DIED BLONDES was awarded a free slot at this year’s Brighton Fringe and the Ruth Ellis monologue won a place on the programme at London’s Cockpit Theatre.

Q. What was the inspiration for this performance?

A. Two infamous women, Marilyn Monroe and Ruth Ellis, both perceived as dumb blondes. I wanted to give them their voice. Although they used men, men abused them, with dire consequences. Their mental health suffered and both women lost their lives - Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be executed in Britain for the murder of her lover and Marilyn Monroe died in her Los Angeles home. Conspiracy theories abound. Was it suicide, as the LA Police concluded, or misadventure or even murder? I wanted to find a way into the hearts and minds of these women during the final moments of their lives and try to discover what they really thought and felt. Infamous women. Famous last words.

Q.Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

A.I like to think so. Performance acts as the catalyst to inspire debate and create interaction. The audience get to feel things and hopefully be provoked.

Q.How did you become interested in making performance?

A. When I was a kid, I watched every 'I love Lucy' and Bob Hope movie. I marveled at the talent. Mum took me to the pictures every week as an escape from reality. We had very little money and I loved the glamour, the songs and most of all the laughs. At school, I was on the verge of being bullied. Discovering I could do impressions of the teachers saved my bacon the moment the ringleader declared: 'I like her. She's funny.' 

Q. Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

A. Simplicity. Two monologues, that's it. I want to focus on what each woman felt in her final moments based on my research and interpretation of the facts.

Q.Does the show fit with your usual productions?

A. No. Died Blondes is very different. It is very dark. My other shows have been based around readings from my 4 books and peppered with banana-skin moments of my life as an 80’s Adgirl girl in a man's world in oh so sordid Soho.

Q.What do you hope that the audience will experience?

A. I hope they will feel they are right there, with Marilyn and Ruth. As they listen to their last words I want them to question why these two disturbed women behaved as they did. I’d like the audience to empathise not only with Marilyn and Ruth but with women who are vulnerable although may appear to the outsider as strong.

Q.What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

A. My aim was to make it intimate. It's a dark piece but the audience will know it doesn’t have a happy ending. Ideally, I’d like the audience to understand Ruth Ellis and discover her as a real person rather than her tag as 'last woman to be hanged in Britain'. When I perform Marilyn I go behind a screen so the audience can fully connect with what she is saying. I hope people will rethink what may have happened to Marilyn and consider the irony of one of the world's most desirable and loved woman dying in bed, alone.

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