Monday, 29 November 2010

'End Of The Rainbow' at The Trafalgar Studios

On Friday we went to see 'End Of The Rainbow' which, as you might guess from the title, is about the final days of Judy Garland. I don't know an awful lot about Miss Garland other than a few films and some songs, and this play didn't really fill in the background.

The play opens with Judy's pianist in London tootling away on the piano in her hotel suite when she arrives in London to play her residence at The Talk Of The Town in the late 60s, accompanied by her new fiance and manager who is 20-odd years younger than her. The play then alternates between her hotel suite and the nightclub, with a few songs followed by depressing scenes and then another song at the nightclub. We gradually see Judy's dependence on pills of one sort or another grow and her performances become more chaotic and shambolic.

Tracie Bennett's portrayal of Judy was great stuff but I was less convinced by anyone else in the play. At one point when the play faltered I remember wondering whether I was watching an impersonators show, with someone doing a good Judy, someone doing a poor Brooklyn accent and someone else doing a rather camp piano player. I found the play rather hard work and couldn't quite see where it was taking us and then I realised it wasn't particularly taking us anywhere. It was a series of set pieces - Judy at the Talk of the Town, Judy wanting pills, boyfriend bellowing, camp pianist being camp, etc etc - rather a particularly strong narrative. The most annoying bit of the play was when the gay pianist tells the boyfriend that it was the gays who loved Judy first and would keep her memory alive - did he really say that in 1969 or is that hindsight? Eh?

Much as I enjoyed Tracie Bennett's singing as Judy I was quite frankly stunned by the instant standing ovation at the end. Was I in America, I wondered? The play is manipulative and tugs all the right strings but overdoes the Judy-as-the-drug-fueled-madwoman, boyfriend-as-evil-manipulator and pianist-as-gay-friend bits. It was all terribly one-dimensional and false. Still, people seemed to be enjoying it so maybe I'm just a bit jaded? Or maybe it isn't a good play but has the right level of populist moments with a great lead to make it work.

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