DramaNorth WestReview

End of the Rainbow – Opera House, Manchester

Writer: Peter Quilter

Director: Daniel Buckroyd

Reviewer: Mel Duncan

‘Forget your troubles, come on get happy’. A dark and seedy underbelly to the glittering silver screen is exposed when one considers the use of amphetamines on set. Fed to young actors by doctors on studio payroll, these pills were a way of enabling Mickey Rooney and contemporaries cope with the hectic schedules and rigors of filming. Many actors went on to struggle with the demon of addiction for the remainder of their lives, and a prolific example of this is the beloved Judy Garland.

End of the Rainbow gives a snapshot into the last few weeks of Judy’s life – her imminent marriage to Mickey Deans, a gruelling comeback residency at London club Talk of the Town. It shows a woman in crisis, the ebb and flow of repentance and a serious will to change circumstances coupled with a realisation and acceptance that this is her lot. Peter Quilter’s sensitive narrative and writing make this a touching work.

A simple hotel room forms the set for the majority of the performance. Clever adaptations to this foundation (by designer David Shields) transform the room into the stage of the Talk of the Town. Shield’s thoughtful set design is complimented beautifully by David W Kidd’s lighting plan. Very subtle changes throughout mark changes in mood and tone subconsciously. A beautiful playground for any actor to create their magic in.

It is, of course, the music that draws an audience to any story concerned with Judy Garland. Chris Egan’s lush band arrangements, beautifully directed by Tom Turner, formed the accompaniment to scene changes and bigger numbers. It is a real shame that the six piece ensemble couldn’t have travelled with the show – sound levels of the recorded music overshadowing live vocals is a real problem, which could be so easily managed with an in house band.

Filling some very big ruby slippers, Lisa Maxwell appears every inch the troubled star. From the jerky mannerisms to the fast paced multi-directional speech patterns, Maxwell brings Judy Garland to life. Unexpectedly and absolutely triumphantly, in such a traumatic and dark narrative, Maxwell brings out an utterly strong, ironic and fiercely intelligent side of Garland – which must have been tricky to find. Maxwell owns the role, and gives an unforgettable experience – honouring the memory.

Gary Wilmot, as the droll accompanist, gives insight into the wider context of the situation. He provides some of the truly tender moments of the piece, and his stable considered portrayal is an excellent foil to Maxwell’s scatty Garland. The most beautiful musical moments occur with Wilmot sat at the piano, giving acoustic renditions of classics with Maxwell.

Sam Attwater is every inch the ne’er do well hanger on as husband to be Mickey Deans. He finds a depth in the character that at times almost elicits sympathy, despite being a catalyst for the further demise of Garland. Daniel Buckroyd’s subtle direction has created robust and fully formed characters, each with their own perspective on events.

The interplay between these three strong characters makes for an entertaining and heartbreaking evening. A must see for all Garland fans.

Runs until May 7 2016 | Image:Pamela Raith


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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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