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Review: Lennon/Royal Court, Liverpool

30 years on from Everyman, revival is more objective than emotional, says Philip Key

Published on October 25th 2010.


Review: Lennon/Royal Court, Liverpool
WHO was John Lennon? Saint or sinner, wild man or lover, musical genius or lucky musician?

Schofield is an outstanding older Lennon with the right accent and, with the help of a wig and spectacles, the right look. He also brings a lot of humour to the role, describing his meeting with McCartney as 'meeting someone just as f*****g bonkers as I was'.

He was all these and Lennon at the Royal Court does not pretend otherwise. This is a stage biography that allows its audience to make up its own mind.

It’s difficult to sum up a man’s life in just over two hours (plus interval) but writer/ director Bob Eaton has a pretty good stab at it.

It’s not the first time he has done so. The show was first staged in 1981 at the Everyman Theatre less than a year after Lennon’s death. It starred Mark McGann, Graham Fellowes and Eithne Hannigan, and at that time it was a pretty emotional experience.

Nearly 30 years later, some of that emotion lingers, but time has allowed us to sit back and see Lennon’s life a little more objectively.

Eaton has added some nuances to the Lennon story (partly after a meeting with Yoko Ono) but this is essentially same musical, same story to tell.

Lennon is played by two actors at different stages of his life. The older one (with the granny glasses and long hair) tells some of his story directly to the audience while watching his younger self moving from school-days to starting a skiffle group and then the Beatles.

Fans will know most of the story but it is still fun to see it played out on stage with plenty of humour.

Best of all, the cast play the music of his life live, and cherry-picking the hits means that musically it is a show that is hard to beat. There are around 40 numbers

Between the monologues and songs the dialogue scenes are played out on the concert stage with a circular background showing slides and films clips of Lennon’s story.There’s the cheeky chap in a school cap, a blurry photo of his mother, Julia, who was to die in a road accident, old Liverpool scenes and, naturally, the Beatles both home and abroad.

While some songs are played in a chronological order, others are used to underline plot points, Working Class Hero appearing early to point out his attitude to life, Hard Days Night emphasising the early struggles.

Most of the key, well documented points in Lennon’s life are included, the Hamburg days, the triumph in the USA, the 18-month “Lost Weekend” break with Yoko, his bread-baking home life in New York, his decision to start recording again and finally, his murder.

This is, thankfully, never seen. There are just drum raps representing gunshots and a fade-out.Daniel Healy plays the young Lennon and Andrew Schofield is the older one.

Frankly, Healy is far-removed from a Lennon look-a-like but he sings well enough and manages the singer’s energetic, legs-apart performing style very well.

Schofield is an outstanding older Lennon with the right accent and, with the help of a wig and spectacles, the right look. He also brings a lot of humour to the role, describing his meeting with McCartney as “meeting someone just as f*****g bonkers as I was”.Director Eaton also adds his own comic tricks as with the famous “rattle your jewellery” Royal Variety Performance in which he places a cardboard cut-out of the Queen in the theatre’s own Royal box, doing some arm waving.

The rest of the nine-strong cast add their own musical and acting abilities to the show. Stephen Fletcher gets the right, slightly pompous feel of Paul McCartney, while Adam Keast is a dignified Brian Epstein and a rather sad Stu Sutcliffe.

Chris Grahamson has less to do as the Beatles drummers Pete Best and Ringo Starr but gets one of the biggest laughs when it is announced: “Mersey Beat exclusive: Beatles change drummers” and simply ruffles his hair and starts swaying his head. Paul Mannion gets little dialogue as George but plays a mean guitar.

The two females in the cast double up quite beautifully, Nicky Swift playing both Lennon’s Aunt Mimi and Cynthia, while Maria Lawson is pitch perfect as a cheerful Julia and stern Yoko.

Hardest working of all is Jonathan Markwood with nine roles, all very funny from Bob Wooler and Ed Sullivan to Herr Koschmider and a hilarious Elton John.

Lennon the musical is very much a celebration.. While there are a few warts, it is not really a warts-and-all biography. This is the Lennon we like to believe in, funny, passionate, and a promoter of love and peace.

Naturally we get Give Peace a Chance (as a singalong) but it ends – not unexpectedly – with his biggest solo hit, Imagine.

8/10*Lennon is at the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool, until November 13.

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AnonymousOctober 20th 2010.

I can't see the point of this

that'smrbollockstoyouOctober 21st 2010.

Spot on, mush. Great show especially the euphoric, often very funny, first half. The droll, sharp witted Schofield is ace as John, and Fletcher drew a lot of knowing sniggers as the know-all Paul. Only one thing - I think the f***ing bonkers line in the show is made in reference to Yoko not Macca.

BeatlesGuruOctober 22nd 2010.

Of course the cardboard cutout of the queen is wrong, as it was Princess Margaret and the queen mother who were present at that particular Royal Variety Performance. But otherwise it certainly sounds a very amusing show, that would certainly be worthy of a theatre tour all over the UK.

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