Tracie Bennett deserves every one of the five stars she has been receiving for her rendition of Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow, however the play does not. This bio-play relives the final sad days of Garland’s life when she struggled through a five week season at the Talk of the Town in London. The storyline is flimsy with no explanation of how Garland got to this disastrous stage in her life, and no mention of the dreadful ordeal child stars of her era went through. In fact the play consists mostly of ferocious arguments and is, as a result, rather grim to watch.
I have never been to the Trafalgar Studios before; it is a one tiered theatre, that for the audience is a bit like looking in on a shoebox. The stage is nicely decorated as Garland’s London hotel room, although with no set changes throughout, it looks stale by the end. The band are cleverly located behind the back wall of the stage, and are revealed for musical numbers.
Bennett truly is a tour de force, belting out Judy’s most famous songs with power and yet a unique vulnerability, that makes you want to listen. She manages to conquer even the trickiest of Garland’s songs: ‘The Trolley Man’ and ‘The Man That Got Away’, with real power and emotional intensity that must be hard to sustain on stage for two hours. Occasionally Quilter’s play allows for a little humour, and Bennett masters this too, most memorably when she realises she has swallowed drugs intended for a Cocker-Spaniel and starts to do hilarious canine impressions.
Starring alongside the diva are her fifth husband-to-be, Mickey Deans (Stephen Hagan) and her sympathetic gay pianist, Anthony (Hilton McRae). McRae is faultless, and is a pleasure to watch with Bennett, he also proves to be a very accomplished pianist, playing alongside her live on stage. I felt sorry for Hagan whose role in the play is not particularly meaty, but he does what he can with the part.
End of the Rainbow continues at The Trafalgar Studios until 5 March 2011. Book here.