Set in December 1968, Judy Garland is about to make her comeback... again. In a London hotel room with her young new fiancé at her side, Garland battles with a tornado of drugs and alcohol as she undertakes an exhausting series of concerts at the Talk of the Town to try and reclaim her crown as the greatest talent of her generation. Despite a series of failed marriages and a wrecked Hollywood career, Judy remains a tough, compelling, remarkable woman always armed to the teeth with her legendary razor-sharp wit.
As well as talking to Bennett about her upcoming performance, bringing to life one of the most iconic figures of 20th Century popular culture, I was also lucky enough to talk to Bennet about her performances in Hairspray and La Cage Aux Folles and what might be next for her.
Working on Hairspray was just brilliant, the show is such a major American machine. The team, the money, costumes were all so big. It's hard to be the only person that the audience hates in a show, but you just have to be brave enough to go, "well if you all don’t like me, then I have done my job!"
Working on a production like that you have to pace yourself and be an athlete. You have to eat and sleep properly. The audience just loved it. The kids in the cast were brilliant, they all worked hard. It was a joy.
It was the same with La Cage, I mean the young transvestites that I worked with were just a joy. My girls, I loved them all. They all called me Auntie Tracie. They were so beautiful. They would get dressed up after a show and go out around town. Some of them are far more feminine than I’ll ever be, seriously lovely people and they worked hard too. They made that show. I was so pleased for them, some were just out of drama school and loved it. They got a lot out of the show, their own confidence and they went on to better things, different things. Some of them went abroad. They've gone on to great careers.
End of the Rainbow all started about ten years ago to be honest in another form, the play was called The Last Song Of The Nightingale, and the character was Martha Lewis. It was very similar, maybe the writer was frightened of libel law, but he went away and wrote it again and we did it for two years in Hampstead, Greenwich and the Edinburgh festival. We worked on it and then he did do Judy in End of the Rainbow and it went abroad and I was busy.
It came back to me last year because the producer bought the rights for me. He came to see Hairspray, I came out the stage door and he said, "Tracie, I bought the rights with you in mind do you want to do this?" I pulled the director Terry Johnson in and told him to read it. He worked with the writer on new scene’s and restructured certain bits and agreed to direct me. He recruited Bill Dudley, the in best designer in the world, and we all did it at Northampton.
I think at early doors the brief was we need someone really brave who can play really deep down, mood swings, pathos and comedy. Who is little with a big voice and who looks tired and haggard! I was like that!
When I was 18-years old I was a character actor. I’m never a glamour girl in my head, so I was playing old women in rep theatre for 30 years. I’m not a star. I’m a jobbing actor who has had a bit of experience, I suppose.
I hope people like End of the Rainbow. Its exciting for me to challenge myself on this, I’m used to support leading. I’m not a bad support lead. I’ve been a chorus girl and I have been a lead in the reps.I’m just going to put my head down and do the best I can to serve this piece, serve this Judy at this particular point in time, and hope that people like it.
I have to be honest. Everything I do is something I invest in and commit to and is special. I’m not special, every piece that I do is the same commitment whether it's two lines or doing Judy Garland. I have enjoyed my research but I have enjoyed everything, with makeup, wigs.
I love that all this has been full on and more intense because of the body of work, the fact she did exist and the fact she was a legend. I can’t possibly ever know what its like to be a legend, so in that way I seriously have to use my imagination. I'm not Judy Garland, nobody can be Judy Garland.
Part of what this play is saying is about the price of fame. How this particular person has dealt with their gift. A lot of people can't deal with their gift, no matter what they do.
I have to wait and see what I do next. The producers want to tour End of the Rainbow and that’s out of my hands. I’ll keep myself available just in case. I won’t be disloyal. It’s hard, because you have to wait. You might turn things down waiting for a tour which might not happen. That's hard. But hey, I’d rather commit to them because they’ve been loyal to me. So if they want to tour it that’s what I’ll do. If they want to take it to America, then that’s what I'll do.
I’m an entertainer. I like to make people think with plays that I do. I wish I had the gift of writing. I think that must be the best gift in the world, but I can’t do it. So the next best thing for me is to be a vessel for it. I like making audiences cry or laugh, forgetting their own stuff for a while. I think End of the Rainbow is an entertaining piece. It's a piece about the price of faith, of being gifted.
End of the Rainbow opens at Trafalgar Studio 1 on 22 November 2010 (previews from 15 November) where it is initially booking until 5 March 2011.