Review: End of the Rainbow, Cambridge Arts Theatre

‘EVEN Judy Garland could not have played Judy Garland with such insight’ - review by Angela Singer.

EVEN Judy Garland could not have played Judy Garland with such insight.

Moving with a feline deftness, Tracie Bennett (in real life as down to earth as the next woman in the queue at Sainsbury’s) captures all the melodrama, guts and grit of a star who is losing it and hanging on by her fingernails. Her performance, of such verve, wit and compassion is a privilege to see. If you are lucky, you see acting this good once every 30 years. On stage throughout the play, this is a magnificent portrayal of someone too divine to be human and too human to be divine.

Recreating Judy’s last show at the Talk of the Town in London in 1969, Bennett has the bounce in her step of Garland on stage. She can belt out the songs to break your heart. That alone was worth the standing ovation she received.

Her off-stage Garland captures that middle distance place people go to when they are “out of it” yet oddly perceptive at the same time. Peter Quilter’s cleverly written play, directed by Terry Johnson, is too funny ever to be mawkish. You never feel sorry for the Judy you see because she has such indomitable spirit. Bennett brings out her dignity, despite the mess her life has made of her.

Hilton McRae as Anthony, Judy’s pianist, plays him with a gentle warmth so his gayness is never a caricature and Norman Bowman as Mickey Deans, Judy’s last husband and manager, pitches the character so that you are never quite sure how genuine he is, or whether he too is deceiving himself.

This is a mesmerising show, beautiful to look at, wonderful to hear and moving to feel part of. We are taken back to The Talk of the Town but unlike the audience there, we never felt short-changed.