We know the end of the story. We even know how its heroine got there. But it still grips. We still wish that the ending could have been a happy one. It is a measure of Tracie Bennett’s marvellous performance as Judy Garland, both histrionically and musically, that one follows every nuance of her last London season as though the story was new-minted.
William Dudley’s set of an opulently international hotel suite opens up to become the night-spot – complete with band. Bennett puts over the famous numbers with conviction, her microphone lead seeming to symbolise the coils of addiction which tripped up her career. The scenes in the hotel, ever more chaotic as her latest fiancé (and manager) and her accompanist try so hopelessly to control her, switch effortlessly from raucous farce to bitter-sweet calm.
If Peter Quilter’s script provides most of the words, it is the performances of Norman Bowman as Mickey Deans, all 1960s bouffant hair and trouser flares, and Hilton McRae as pianist Anthony, a man who has come to peace with himself but cannot pass on the gift, which frame that of Bennett. The two quiet scenes between Judy and Anthony are especially moving in their misty “might have been" exchanges.
Standing ovations on first nights are always just a little suspect. The same cannot be said of those awarded at performances not graced by the production’s management or the cast’s friends, families and colleagues. I would have expected a fuller house for this Wet End transfer. End of the Rainbow deserves it. The story of a girl growing into wrenched womanhood whose entire life was apparently spent for other people’s needs and pleasure is a sad one. But Bennett makes it a triumph.