Writer and director: Rocky Rodriguez Jr
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
In May 1969, newlyweds John Lennon and Yoko Ono began their seven-day bed-in for peace in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Montreal, a private protest intruded on only by the world’s media. At the time, the Vietnam War was raging, political assassinations had rocked America and Cvil Rights and student protests were in full flow. Perhaps a little light relief was sorely needed.
Recreating the event here in northwest London, a mile or so from the Abbey Road studios, Rocky Rodriguez Jr’s new play puts the demonstration into the context of its day, maybe casting a few sideways glances towards modern entertainers who use their celebrity status to dabble in politics. The Spoonerism in the title suggests a mocking satire, but, sadly, there is hardly any other dash of humour in the play’s entirety.
Craig Edgley’s John is volatile and egotistical, revealing the instability of a man who had been catapulted from Liverpool working-class obscurity to international fame and fortune in less than a decade. Jung Sun Den Hollander makes Yoko a calmer force, but still strongly opinionated and an eccentric to Western eyes. Together, they are playful and affectionate, the performances conforming closely to popular perceptions of the couple.
The smell of burning incense fills the air and lighted candles adorn Abigail Screen’s set design for this in-the-round production. Love and peace mantras of the ‘60s, rarely heard since the last revival of Hair, come mainly from the play’s Narrator (Helen Foster), who appears in psychedelic turquoise. However, things that may have seemed profound and sincere in their day now come across as naive and pretentious, exemplifying one of the play’s chief problems – its struggle to build a bridge between past and present.
The World’s media is represented by Thomas Ababio, Lyna Dubarry, Joshua McGregor and Amelia Parillon, who also act as advocates in debates on the burning issues of half a century ago. They are the real world and the writer is pointing out the gulf between them and celebrities who are cocooned in a five-star hotel. In these overlong, rambling scenes, the central characters become mere onlookers and the play loses its focus. That said, there are segments of real passion in the writing and performances, most notably in a fiery and eloquent rant against racism, acted by Parillon.
The show is stretched out to two hours by an interval that benefits only the theatre bar, but, at least the tone lightens considerably in later scenes, culminating in a rousing singalong to Give Peace a Chance. If Rodriguez Jr wants to give his play a stronger chance, he needs to cut and re-shape it. There is enough quality in both writing and performances for it to become a great deal better than it is right now.
Runs until 28 April 2019 | Image: Lidia Crisafulli