Like most little girls, my first memories of Judy Garland have something to do with a yellow brick road, an emerald city and red slippers. I watched in awe of this young girl skipping and singing her way into my heart and I too wanted to be part of her seemingly magical and perfect life.
But End of the Rainbow doesn’t paint a pretty picture of Garland’s last days; instead it rips you through the bright lights and dark pits that tormented her, enabled her, and eventually killed her.
The regal, old Royalty Theatre provided the perfect backdrop for The Ritz Hotel London, 1969, where Garland was preparing for a 5 week stint at Talk of the Town nightclub. Orchestrated and managed by her fifth and final husband, Mickey Deans, with her long suffering accompanist, Anthony Chapman, we watch the relationship between the three characters bounce between banter, comedy, hatred, power, joy, pain, love and truth. And bear witness to the mental and physical decline of the world’s darling.
Peter Quilter’s worldwide smash brings to the forefront the other side of the Hollywood legend. It doesn’t show her at her best, he says. But it won’t make you love her any less. And right he is.
His vision was brought to life by first time director Elena Carapetis. An absolute genius in her directorial debut, she took on the huge responsibility of recreating this small, but pivotal window of Judy’s life. Bravo.
A little light jazz playing in the background, some liquor on the side table, Louis Vuitton suitcases strewn across the set and a grand piano to finish it off.
Anthony takes his place at the keys for a soft rendition of Over the Rainbow, before we are interrupted by the undisputed voice and laughter that can only belong to Ms Judy Garland.
Or in this case, Helen Dallimore.
Oh, Ms Dallimore.
The nuances such as a shake of the head, a flick of the hair, a fidget of the fingers, the quiver of her lips. I could go on.
If I may be honest, I was worried it would be an actor playing Judy Garland as a caricature.
I was so wrong.
Dallimore didn’t just personify Garland, she transformed the story of the legend into a human of naivety, fragility, explosiveness and utter incomparability.
Her incredible renditions of Garland favourites such as Come Rain or Come Shine, and Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart, really proved why no one else, but her, was up to the task of taking on Garland.
Stephen Sheehan as Anthony was absolute joy from start to finish. His final conversation with Judy declaring his unconditional love and describing how he saw their life together was a truly delicate and intimate moment that would’ve maybe seen her life go down a different path.
He provided the tender, and humorous moments amongst the chaos, manic and drama that was Garland and Deans.
Mickey Deans began as Judy’s protector; strong and loving, trying hard to keep her on the straight and narrow and away from the booze and pills. But he soon realised that wasn’t the Judy the people wanted. Or the Judy that was going to provide for him.
Nic English played Deans as a tortured, heartfelt enabler who essentially did love Garland, but loved her celebrity more. He carried this character throughout with vivid gusto, right to the very end.
Special mention to set and lighting designers, Ailsa Paterson and Mark Pennington. You could hear the gasp from the audience when the lights lit up like the colloquial rainbow in the final scene.
End of the Rainbow was a truly moving piece of theatre – taking dramatic, musical and vaudevillian cues to bring to life the pain, suffering and vulnerability of one of the worlds most loved legends.
“In the silence of night I have often wished for just a few words of love from one man, rather than the applause of thousands of people.” – Judy Garland
Happy theatre travels…
This review also features on the Theatre Travels website – www.theatretravels.org