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A CurtainUp London London Review
End of the Rainbow

I don't need help, I need pills. — Judy
End of the Rainbow
Tracie Bennett as Judy Garland (Photo: Robert Day)
I am writing this the day before the Olivier awards are announced and this week I caught the show End of the Rainbow which is widely tipped to be recognised, having already been nominated in four categories. The play has scenes from the last months of Judy Garland's life before she was found dead of an overdose of sleeping pills, accidental according to the coroner in London on 22nd June 1969.

Set in the Dorchester Hotel where Garland (Tracie Bennett) is staying with her latest toy boy fiancé, club pianist, Mickey Deans (Stephen Hagan) whom she met when he was delivering drugs to her New York hotel room. Hilton McRae plays Anthony, Garland's current show pianist, a gay Scotsman and someone who adores her.

Tracie Bennett's performance is mesmerising. It isn't an attractive picture of Judy Garland —, often drunk, sometimes high as a kite on drugs as she battles to rehearse to perform at The Talk of the Town to provide her with some income — but it is one that you will never forget. There are also moments of mostly black humour. During the play, the hotel refuse to extend her credit and she threatens one of the managers with the prospect of the sight of "Dorothy splashed all over their red carpet." It's not really how I want to remember Judy Garland. The theatre programme tells us that child stars like Garland and Mickey Rooney in the 1940s were fed amphetamines by the Studios to keep their weight down and to help them stay awake for the long hours of filming on a hectic schedule.

Bennett is amusing but this play never shows the real charm snf charisma of the star. It is a compelling portrait but an ugly one. She hoovers up any pills she can and is devious in concealing alcohol and drugs taped to hiding places like the underside of the piano. She finds in the pianist's briefcase a bottle of pills and swallows them all. These were prescribed by a vetinarian for Anthony's sister-in-law's springer spaniel's mange. Garland finds the whole episode hysterically funny and on all fours, she pretends to widdle on the legs of furniture, runs round the hotel room with her tongue hanging out and finally rolls over for her tummy to be tickled. She doesn't care. She can only cope with alcohol and drugs.

Whilst her husband to be Mickey Deans is ostensibly her carer, we have no doubt that the person who really cares about her is Anthony the gentle pianist. At one point he suggests that she might like to leave to live with him away from the pressure of show business but this is the stuff of fantasy. It is Hilton McRae's performance which has the emotion in it. I am pleased that his performance too has been nominated for an Olivier.

The set is Dorchester rococo with plush carpets and gilt frames pictures on the walls and a piano. The backdrop balcony is raised to reveal a six piece band for The Talk of the Town sequences.

There are some of Garland's famous songs and Tracie Bennett has taken lead roles in musicals so she can belt them out but at times the songs feel desperate and unhappy. She sings, "A Foggy Day in London Town", "Just in Time", "You Made Me Love You" "For Me and My Gal", and with deep irony, her final number before the breakdown is "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart."

When Garland goes missing during The Talk of the Town concerts she is carried back in inebriated, her face grazed from a fall. She is fighting drunk, totally convincing but this is tragedy - the disintegration of a star.

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End of the Rainbow
Written by Peter Quilter
Directed by Terry Johnson

Starring: Tracie Bennett, Hilton McRae
With: Stephen Hagan, Robin Browne
Design: William Dudley
Lighting: Simon Corder
Sound: Gareth Owen
Musical Supervision: Gareth Valentine
Arranger: Chris Egan
Movement: Jason Pennycooke
Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes including an interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6632
Booking to 21st May 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 8th March 2011performance at the Trafalgat Studios One, Whitehall, London SW1A 2D (Tube: Charing Cross)

Musical Numbers
  • I Can't Give You Anything But Love
  • Just in Time
  • For Me and My Gal
  • You Made Me Love You
  • The Trolley Song
  • The Man That Got Away
  • When You're Smiling
  • Come Rain or Come Shine
  • Somewhere Over the Rainbow
  • By Myself
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