Review: Call Me Elizabeth (Edinburgh Fringe, online)

Kayla Boye takes on the difficult task of writing about, and portraying the icon which was Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011). Just like Marilyn Monroe, you feel you already know everything about her; the marriages, the child star turned child woman in the Hollywood machine, her constant health battles, the diamonds, her activism.

We are in 1961. Taylor has been so ill that her current picture, Cleopatra has been shut down. Her husband , Eddie Fisher (fourth of eight), is out of town, her sons are “in Malibu with their father”. There’s a photograph of Mike Todd (husband three, and the only one she didn’t divorce), on the sideboard, and their daughter Liza, unseen, learns to swim in the pool.

By this time, Taylor had made thirty films, starting at the age of ten, and yet she states her she would have preferred to be “an ordinary housewife” (odd, for a woman of twenty-nine with two divorces under her belt), She’s giving an interview here – disconcertingly, we, the audience, are not the receipient of this monologue, as Boye never plays to the camera.

Growing too quickly, her curves becoming apparent long before was out of her teens, she was stage-managed into adulthood, and she is determined that her children will not be ruined by the glare of the spotlight. There are hints of her upcoming illness, with her back problems from the days of National Velvet, and an implied addiction to painkillers, together with her marriage already starting to teeter on the rocks.

Promotional image for Call Me Elizabeth

Boye’s performance is no imitation, instead giving a sense of Taylor through costume and an approximation of her voice, with a bottle of champagne by her side. This Elizabeth is an idealist and a little girl who never grew up, but she also displays a steely determination and a blithe dismissal of the personal heartache she has caused those who loved her.

The husbands get their mention: handsome, violent gambler Nicky Hilton; mature yet predictable Michael Wilding (father of her sons); the big-spending tornado that was Mike Todd, Fisher already proving a disappointment. Taylor’s reputation as a homewrecker is briefly touched on but it is clear this version of the star has little awareness of her actions (on Debbie Reynolds, the former Mrs Fisher: “they were going to divorce anyway, sometime”).

This play is a good attempt at bringing Elizabeth Taylor back to life, at this one single moment. We know what is to come – Cleopatra, three more husbands (across four marriages), an adoption, a film career that continues to have its ups and downs. Taylor may have been selfish, but she is also shrewd, sensitive, and above all, sad.

Fringe rating: ****

You can stream Call Me Elizabeth (beautifully directed by Erin Kraft) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on the Fringe Player until the end of August – book your ticket here.