★★★★ | End Of The Rainbow

Set primarily in a hotel room as Judy Garland embarks on a set of comeback shows in a six week residency in London,  End Of The Rainbow examines the on and off stage crumbling of an iconic figure and her ongoing battles with her personal demons

Photo Credit – Pamela Raith Photography

As Judy succumbs to a cocktail of drink and drugs. Garland tries to hold things together as she is pushed to the brink by her fiancé, who is torn between his desire for them to share a private life and successfully reviving her career and fighting off her financial difficulties.

Starring in the role of Judy is Lisa Maxwell (Loose Women), who gives a simply superb performance, capturing not only the mannerisms and melodic intonation of Garland but effectively portraying the contrasts between her brashness and her vulnerabilities and offering genuine raw emotion in numerous scenes showing just how tragic many of the aspects of Garland’s private life was. Alongside her was Gary Wilmot, who offers a gentile and steady portrayal of Anthony Chapman, Garland’s gay pianist and confidant; and Simon Pontin as Micky Deans, her fiancé.

Peter Quilters play is lovingly written, juxtaposing the wit, bravado and sheer brashness of Garland with her heart-breaking vulnerabilities and desperation. The play shows Garland at her best and worst and provides scenes which really do gut punch you. As a drunken Judy, a quivering mess, lays on the floor begging for pills and to be loved, you can’t help but feel sorry for her. Aspects of Garland’s life are sensitively handled; yet don’t lose any of their power, in particular as she talks about being force-fed pills from a very young age by both the movie studios and her mother.  But it isn’t all downbeat, as Judy’s legendary rapier sharp wit cuts through the drama and the scenes in the hotel are interspersed with a smattering of some of her classic hits, which are belted out with aplomb by a vocally impressive Maxwell, all of which is sufficient to lighten the mood.

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End of the Rainbow avoids being a saccharine coated tribute by a country mile, and instead is a warts and all portrayal of Garland as she descends back into the pill taking and drinking that would soon consume her; and which examines the person she had become as a result of the years of the pressures of fame and the treatment of her by those around her. Yet despite all of that, Garland never really comes across as a victim in all of this, but instead remains an unstoppable, headstrong force of nature whose confidence and bravado no doubt masked a fragile and helpless woman.

End of the Rainbow is currently at Sheffield Theatres (www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk) until Saturday 15th May 2016, before continuing on its national tour. See the show’s official website at www.endoftherainbowtour.co.uk for details.

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About the author: Paul Szabo
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.