Ed Sullivan's 1964 introduction of the Beatles was a classic moment in pop music history that presented a fresh faced group of musicians from Liverpool to an unsuspecting global audience. This all seems a long way removed from the glut of Beatles shows popping up and fading away in the nation's capital as of late.
There are almost as many Beatles shows in London as there are number ones from the Fab Four so a new transfer from Edinburgh needs a real selling point to distinguish it from the crowd. Unfortunately, despite a sincere telling of the tale from a dedicated cast, And in the End (written and directed by Alexander Marshall) lacks a spark and purpose and is therefore more of a b-side than a smash hit.
The play starts immediately after the shooting of John Lennon (Valentine Pelka) in New York. He is confronted by three gatekeepers who guide him through the five stages of death, each of which demarcates a new act. It’s a nice trick in principle but the content of the play rarely swerves back to the overarching theme of each act and thus it is little more than an obvious framing device.
A piece allowing Lennon to look back on his life and face his mortality certainly has appeal but rather than really grappling with his death, Valentine Pelka’s John Lennon simply re-tells his life story. The moments of pure emotion - the rage at McCartney shirking rehearsals, the tenderness felt towards Yoko at their first meeting – truly captures some of Lennon’s magic.
In particular, the boyish charm on show resonates with the sense of tragic mischief the singer is famed for. Pelka is ably supported by Martin Bendel, Helen Phillips and Spencer Cowan who dip into many significant characters in Lennon’s life.
These moments are too far in between however and with such a vast and difficult script it is no wonder that Pelka struggles at times with the specificities of Lennon’s upbringing. Here, the play flags quite badly and the audience must feel some sympathy for the lead who is left alone to embellish what is effectively a long dramatic reading: “Boy, you gotta carry that weight a long time” indeed.
Lennon barely plays a chord in the piece and that is a truly admirable decision from Marshall; shadowing the public façade of the Beatles in favour of a relatable and vital human tale. But it does however force the question of who this play is really for. Beatles fanatics already know the story and can only take the scraps of Lennon’s fiery emotion from the piece while a more casual viewer laments the lack of Beatles lustre and indeed, the laughter and charisma that made Lennon a star.
While And in the End is not entirely bereft of charm and the dedication of the cast is unswerving this is not enough to make a dramatic re-telling of Lennon’s life any more than a Hard Day’s Night.