We gain an inkling of Alexander Marshall’s ambition for And in the End in the programme notes: ‘Whilst I hope that And in the End is an uplifting show … be warned, good reader’ – bear with me – ‘that it is not always a gentle show. It does, after all, presume to tell you what might have been going through John Lennon’s mind as his life passed before him while he lay bleeding to death…’
Who could argue with that as a dramatic concept? John Lennon’s shocking death in 1980 is a natural vantage point from which to look back over his whole life, and maybe even to learn a thing or two that we didn’t know before. Did you know, for example, that as a young man Lennon participated in mutual masturbation sessions with fellow members of his skiffle group, the Quarrymen, yelling ‘CHURCHILL!’ as his chums reached climax in order to ruin their Brigitte Bardot-centred fantasy? Marshall’s play is full of such trivia. He clearly loves his subject.
But while we learn a lot about Marshall’s attention to detail, the trivia teaches us little about his subject; it just adds colour to a largely familiar series of anecdotes, somewhat mawkishly structured around Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s dubiously simplistic ‘five stages of grief’. As missed opportunities go this is extreme, leaving a talented four-strong cast sadly hamstrung by a rather humdrum script.
Valentine Pelka is convincing as Lennon, portraying every shade of the singer’s personality from cheeky good humour to blank depression and quivering despair. His Lennon is brilliant, flawed and vulnerable, disgusted by his fans’ robotic screams and stifled by his relationships with his band-mates and his wives. Pelka’s stage presence is magnetic, and as he harangues, bargains and jokes with god many audience members will feel he’s addressing them directly.
Guiding Lennon through his traumatic transition from life to death are three ‘gatekeepers’ who double up as significant figures from the singer’s life. Spencer Cowan shines as a snippy and flirtatious Brian Epstein, and Helen Phillips portrays Yoko Ono with believable emotional detachment. Martin Bendel also takes on several roles – including the Beatles’ Hamburg promoter, chuckling at the band’s name’s similarity to ‘small willies’ in German.
And there’s the trivia again. It’s not enough to tell a story we already know, add a few undoubtedly interesting tidbits and cram it into a stilted confrontation with god – unless, that is, there’s something truly stunning to be revealed. Sadly – good reader – there isn’t. Die-hard Beatles fans, let down by Yoko Ono’s shameful 2005 Broadway ego-fest Lennon, will certainly treasure this as a more honest and straightforward tribute to John Lennon. Others might find an evening spent listening to his music a little more rewarding.