Guest contributor Paul T. Davies reviews End Of The Rainbow at the Mercury Theatre for Keep Colchester Cool.


Peter Quilter’s play with music about the final months of Judy Garland’s life enjoyed a huge success in the West End and Broadway a few years ago. This Mercury Theatre production captures perfectly the essence of fame and loneliness, that toxic mix of fame that has destroyed so many talents. Holed up in her hotel room, Garland is in London to perform a series of concerts at the legendary Talk of the Town, a crippling schedule aimed to clear her debts and keep her in the eye of her adoring public, (and paparazzi). Months later she will die at the age of 47, and the world will mourn.

It’s not easy to portray an icon when that icon is past her best. Still adored, her every move under close scrutiny, broke, still funny, addicted, mesmerising. Lisa Maxwell gets under the skin of Garland and inhabits her, revealing all the layers of this complex woman, who just wants to get off the carousel of fame and disappear. Her voice is harsh and beautiful in turns, capturing the struggle Garland faced to keep going, her onstage and off stage tantrums delighting the audience, until it becomes clear that there is no way she can get off this fairground ride. She breaks our hearts, a superlative performance.

She is matched by the excellent Gary Wilmot as gay pianist, and true friend, Anthony Chapman, his ironic British humour making connections with the ‘real’ Judy. His campness is never false, he avoids easy stereotype and skillfully shows us what Garland meant to generations of closeted gay men like him.

Sam Attwater is equally effective as husband number 5 Mickey Deans, first supporting her, then pumping her full of pills and booze to get her on stage- to make sure his ‘product’ makes money. The world witnessed the same thing done to Amy Winehouse, and this powerful play should be shown to fame hungry kids everywhere. Equally a celebration and memorial to Garland’s life, this is the one play I have seen at the Mercury that screams one word – REVIVAL! Judy was, literally, not with us long enough, but the show now embarks on an extensive UK tour, see for details.


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