Writer: Alexander Marshall
Director: Alexander Marshall
Reviewer: Andy Moseley
Fifty years on from The Beatles first number one single, the memory of John Lennon not only lives on, it’s also getting revived and revisited on a regular basis. Hot on the heels of Sky Arts Playhouse’s Snodgrass, comes Alexander Marshall’s And In The End, set in the vortex between life and death shortly after Mark Chapman fired the shots that killed Lennon.
Valentine Pelka plays Lennon as he moves through the five stages of death – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance – assisted by three gatekeepers (Martin Bendel, Helen Phillips and Spencer Cowan), who also appear as various characters from Lennon’s life.
It’s an intriguing premise, allowing for the kind of whole life reflection that, if it comes at all, could only come in that short moment when life is about to end. Sadly it never takes the opportunity the setting presents. The five stages of death are not used as a vehicle for Lennon to structure his thoughts, they simply enable him to walk through his life chronologically, with events acting as convenient hooks to close one stage and move on to the next.
At each of the first four stages the required emotions are manifested in relation to his life far more than his death. Rather than fighting to stay alive, he appears to be unaware of how close to death he is, and instead of his former years flashing before him, they gently canter past with no real sense of urgnecy or thoughts of what he might have done differently. For long periods it feels like ‘An Audience With John Lennon’ as Marshall’s script merely recounts many of the key events of Lennon’s life with minimal insight into his state of mind at the time they happened and even less into what he might have been thinking about them as his life was ending.
There is no real anger at the fact that fate is robbing him of the chance to do all the things he was planning to do, and his acceptance of death comes without any real fight against it.
The best moments are when he talks about discovering Elvis, getting his first guitar and hearing Paul McCartney playing an Eddie Cochran song on the night they first met. The innocence of these moments, coupled with our knowledge of what they would lead to, and the sadness that Lennon is not alive to talk about them himself, make them especially poignant, but other events such as the deaths of his mother and Stu Sutcliffe, the Beatles original bassist, are skirted over and their impact on his subsequent life never fully explored.
In spite of Marshall’s desire to correct the mistakes in other works on Lennon’s life there is very little here that is new, save for the account of the five years Lennon spent as a house husband, and how the noise of fans screaming at the height of Beatle mania haunted him for years after the band stopped touring. Even these will probably already be known by a lot of Lennon fans, and for non fans will not be of interest anyway.
Ultimately the play fails to deliver what it promises to. It’s a pleasant enough walk through Lennon’s life, but it’s not the reflections of a man in a state of limbo between life and death, fighting to stay alive. The performances are all solid, but the script just doesn’t do the job it’s intended to.