We caught up with Beth Burrows, University of Bristol alumna and star of ‘Sirens of the Silver Screen’ – a one-woman musical cabaret about the glamorous, scandalous lives of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Judy Garland
TBM: Why did you choose to focus on these three women in particular?
Beth: I was living in Dubai when I created the show. There is a real dearth of home-grown theatre in the United Arab Emirates, so out of frustration I decided to make my own show. In order to appeal to a Dubai audience I knew I had to create something glamorous and glitzy… Dubai is a very flashy place! My first thought was Hollywood – the home of the red carpet. I drew up a shortlist of silver screen sirens I could choose from. There were plenty of impressive names on the list – Elizabeth Taylor, Ginger Rogers, Grace Kelly – but the ones that really stood out were Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. These women are true legends, on another level from the rest; it seems the more time passes the more iconic they become!
How do you get into character? Are you imitating them closely or embodying the general spirit of each star?
The latter is right. I am telling the story of their lives – the good, the bad and the ugly – through their songs, footage from their lives and my own script that ties it all together. The only element I do ‘in character’ are the songs – you can’t sing ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ without putting on the voice and mannerisms!
What does the phrase ‘screen siren’ mean to you?
It’s an interesting question. Technically a ‘siren’ means ‘a seductively beautiful or charming woman, especially one who beguiles men’. I think the beauty part is definitely right; Judy, Audrey and Marilyn were so photogenic and captivating on-screen. But the part about beguiling men sounds a bit dark… For me a screen siren is an image of classic femininity mixed with modern independence. I think that’s they key – you can’t pin a silver screen siren down, they’re too illusive.
How do you think perceptions of women have changed since these sirens were at the height of their fame?
Not very much actually! Hollywood is still fixated on leading ladies looking a certain way. Of course there are exceptions to the rule – like plus-size comedy actress Rebel Wilson – but the film industry is very prescriptive in terms of what works and what doesn’t. Hollywood success is a formula – it’s just a question of whether you fit into that.
Beth as Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, image © Anushka Eranga
What can audiences expect from the show?
Entertainment – that’s what the show is all about! There’s all the famous songs, gorgeous costumes and funny little stories about the three women. But you can also expect to learn something. I’ve been performing the show in Dubai and for the last 6 months on a luxury cruise line and the response I get most often is, ‘wow, I never knew that!’ It’s a bit of an eye opener.
How has Bristol influenced you?
Hugely. I think I fell in love with Bristol the first time I visited the city, when my sister was at University here (my dad studied here too). I turned down a place at Cambridge University because I felt like Bristol was the right place for me. I definitely made the right decision. I had the best three years studying here and getting involved in the arts scene. Bristol just buzzes with energy, I feel at my most creative when I’m here. I’ve just bought my first house in Totterdown, so hopefully the inspiration will keep flowing!
Did you always dream of being on the stage?
It’s a cliché, but yes. Ever since I was about 6 years old. Having the performing bug is both a blessing and a curse – it can be very emotionally draining. I actually took time out from the industry a few years after I finished drama school to start a new career as a journalist for Forbes magazine, but the performing found me again! I’m starting to understand now that the stage is the only place that feels like home.
Do you take a bit of poetic licence with the scandalous stories, or is the show faithful to the lives of the stars?
No, everything in the show is as factually accurate as it can be. Obviously there are some things we can never be sure of – like how Marilyn died – but everything else is 100% correct. These women’s lives were fascinating enough without exaggeration!
Favourite song from the show and why?
Ah that’s a tough one! Can I have two? My favourite to perform is ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ by Marilyn Monroe. I’m nothing like Marilyn in real life, but when I perform this song I just have a riot and let rip. I normally end up sat on the lap of one of the men in the front row!
My other favourite is ‘Moonriver’, which Audrey sings in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s such a simple song, but I think everyone can relate to it. It’s got a real sense of optimism.
Which present-day screen sirens are you loving at the moment?
I’m not sure we have anyone today quite like Judy, Audrey and Marilyn, but I think Emma Stone has star quality and something of that vintage Hollywood look. Plus, what her character does in La La Land is kind of similar to what I’m doing with ‘Sirens of the Silver Screen’!