The Very Best of John Lennon @ The Town Hall Theatre, Galway (Wed 11th May) Theatre Review

On occasions when theatre and pop music have collided the results have not often been pretty. Some things just do not work well together. Automatically We Will Rock You; the jukebox musical based on the songs of Queen springs to mind. Due in part to Bono’s superhero complex, U2s efforts recently to make it on Broadway have also resulted in the doomed theatrical production of Spiderman.  

So as I relaxed in the bar of Galway’s Tall Hall Theatre in anticipation for tonight’s Very Best of John Lennon; (an event inspired by the musician’s life) I couldn’t help but think about what a pantomime based on the life of the famous Beatle would be like and what would Lennon himself make of it.

Whether you see Lennon as some kind of philosopher or activist or simply a surly rocker with a lippy wit his life certainly deserves examination, as he is unquestionably one of the most important cultural icons of the last century.

In the lead up the 30th anniversary of the singer’s death we’ve witnessed some very dubious documentaries and feature films. Most have focused on the killing of Lennon in New York in 1980 or Lennon the activist, but none have touched on the darker sides to Lennon’s character.

Often in death we are immortalised by our good deeds. Society tends to uphold certain aspects of ones character and disregards what is deemed unpleasant. This Waterdonkey production attempts to examine those aspects of Lennon’s life that we don’t often hear about, such as the adulater, the drug addict and poor father. 

Using five actors, the show takes snippets of his life and performs them. The actors use experiences from their own lives to demonstrate how Lennon impacted on them personally. At times they address each other according to their real names and so it’s often a struggle to figure out what characters in the life of Lennon they are referring to.

The production jumps from theme to theme and from one important moment in his life to another. We see John and Yoko on the Dick Cavett Show from the 1970s speaking openly about the effects of drug use. We then jump to Cynthia Lennon witness her coming home to find Yoko dressed in her robe with John looking apologetic.

The infamous killing is also touched on – the production asks; was society at large to blame for the tragic death? But without pause for thought we quickly make another leap in time. For such a significant movement in pop culture history I felt this issue could have been examined with greater detail.

On a whole this is my only qualm with the production. It never inspects any of these themes with the great depth that they deserve. It might have been better to take one aspect, such as the killing or John’s difficult relationship with his son Julian and explore that in its entirety. The piece finishes strongly by looking at what Lennon meant when he said: “Give peace a chance” and poses the question; how can we each bring a little bit more peace into our lives?

The acting here was solid and the set design, although basic, worked perfectly. All in all, this production may leave you feeling confused or you might walk away having learnt a little bit more about the Liverpudlian. But it has to be remembered that John Lennon was only human, with many faults and problems like the rest of us.

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