Monday, 14 November 2005

End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter, MTC, Nov 14, 2005

End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter 
by Ensemble Theatre and Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre,  Nov 14 to December 17, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 14, 2005

People would walk over glass to see Judy Garland perform at her peak. The same applies to Australia’s Caroline O’Connor – and her peak is right now.

A consummate singer, dancer and actor, O’Connor plays the faded, 46 year-old Garland at the embarrassing end of her career.

Peter Quilter’s bio-drama, End of the Rainbow, is a warts-and-all view of Garland‘s final, excruciating cabaret season in 1968 at The Talk of the Town in London.

Garland, suffering from a lifetime of uppers, downers and booze, bankrupt and thrice divorced, is trying to redeem her reputation, salvage her voice and overcome her addictions. She has a new beau, Mickey Deans (Myles Pollard) a younger ex-bartender, who imagines he can secure his fortune and resurrect Judy’s career when better men failed.

Garland’s gay icon status seems central to Quilter’s play. Judy’s pianist, Anthony, (Paul Goddard) is a stitched-up gay, English man whose devotion to the belligerent, drunken Judy is almost incomprehensible.

On-Stage, he attempts to cover her errors and off-stage to protect her from herself, the pills and Mickey. He is unsuccessful in both roles. Judy is her own worst enemy.

O’Connor is magnetic, cunningly treading the line between failed star and genius, vituperative drunk and sparkling comedienne, seasoned performer and terrified debutante.

Quilter focuses on Garland’s inability to function on stage without her pills and drink. Her blind panic before a show resulted from both her addiction and her fans’ expectations of a perfect performance every time.

Despite our perverse fascination with the collapse of a huge star, we crave Judy in her heyday. We wait patiently for the moments when O’Connor breaks into song, when she allows Garland to light up the stage. Perhaps this is why so many who loved her forgave Garland so many transgressions.

O’Connor is a musical phenomenon with a quirky, impish face and body. She eerily inhabits Garland’s persona, creating an echo in time as we peer into Garland’s tattered hotel room, dressing room and her shattered, booze-drenched psyche.

Wayne Harrison directs the show with a focus on O’Connor. Brian Thomson’s design is simple but evocative. The huge letters of Judy’s name stand up like a billboard behind the action. However, the final letter, the “Y”, has tumbled to the floor – just like Judy.

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