Writer: Peter Quilter
Director: Daniel Buckroyd
Reviewer: Michael Hootman
Second only to Marilyn in the tragic female icon stakes, Judy Garland’s life is a cautionary tale about the perils of too much drink, too many drugs and looking for love in all the wrong places. Peter Quilter’s play sees Judy (Lisa Maxwell) near the end of her life playing an exhausting six-week run in London arranged by her manager/fiancé Mickey Deans (Sam Attwater). While he tries to wean her off the pills she’s addicted to – and when it suits him wean her back on them – Judy’s pianist Anthony Chapman (Gary Wilmot) tries his best to referee the increasingly embittered rows.
Although far from being a one-woman show, End of the Rainbow depends on its central performance and Maxwell gives a faultless recreation of the star. She shows Garland in all her complexity: from the foul-mouthed, wise-cracking broad to the vulnerable woman who hasn’t been allowed to develop much past the child-star she began her career as. When she pleads with Deans not to have to finish a show she’s like a little girl who doesn’t want to go school and her desperation is heartbreaking. Although Maxwell can certainly hit all the notes, and her delivery is fine, during the songs she falls just short of being a knockout. There’s absolutely nothing wrong in what she does, it’s just that even during such emotional numbers as Somewhere Over the Rainbow and The Man That Got Away the spine remains steadfastly un-tingled.
Quilter alternates scenes of life in the glitzy hotel whose bill remain impressively unpaid with extracts from Garland’s show at the Talk of the Town. There’s plenty of snappy one-liners though not all of them work. When Deans says he’s not sure where he can find roast beef for Garland she instantly retorts “drive round until you smell gravy” and the play has a few zingers like this which can feel a tad forced.
Gary Wilmot has a quiet dignity as the man who truly cares for the star and realises from the off that Deans is using her. As an openly gay man he does, to some extent, represent a large contingent of Garland’s fans. He shows that, despite what Deans claims, gay men don’t necessarily enjoy the spectacle of a woman slowly destroying herself. There’s one strange scene where he seems to seriously offer the Hollywood star a way out of her problems – namely her coming to live with him in Brighton where they’d live off the money he makes giving piano lessons. Perhaps it suggests that for all his clearheadedness he is, at heart, as much a fantasist as his idol.
As the villain of the piece, Attwater has a virile swagger which makes you understand completely why Garland would fall for him. For almost all of the play it’s made clear he only cares about Judy for the money she brings in. The one time he declares his love with any tenderness it’s as he’s trying to cajole Garland into resuming a show she wants to abandon. But for those few seconds the audience, like the play’s heroine, can almost believe he’s telling the truth.
Runs until 2 April 2016 |Image: Pamela Raith