For those of us who reside in this fine city there is a danger that we can become a little blasé when it comes to anything related to The Beatles. Like the chocoholic who works for Cadbury, there is only so much we can be exposed to before we’re no longer tempted by the tasty treats we once craved, but now see on a daily basis.
Familiar tunes, played by even more familiar looking buskers on every street corner and one too many nights down Mathew Street, often lead to a form of immunity when it comes to the songs that are revered around the world and that still encourage thousands of visitors to flock to Liverpool from all corners of the planet. So, when a new show charting the life of one of the greatest singer songwriters in history comes to town, you could say it has some rather strong competition… the musical equivalent of ‘taking coals to Newcastle’, perhaps.
Written by John Waters, and produced by Harley Medcalf, ‘Lennon – Through A Glass Onion’ is part-concert, part-biography and celebrates the genius, music and phenomenon of John Lennon – featuring songs from early Beatles through to classic solo Lennon material and later collaborations. Having gained international acclaim during its stints in New York and Australia, the play-come-musical monologue has even been giving the blessing of Yoko Ono… no greater praise, indeed, prior to its return to the Epstein Theatre (where else?) for its second run of 2016.
As the show’s title suggests, this is a chance to peel back the multi-layered personality of a man who – even 36 years after his premature death – still intrigues and fascinates the most fair-weather of Beatles fan. Starring Liverpool’s very own Daniel Taylor, the show (play, or whatever… ) looks back at Lennon’s life and musical career from the point of view of the man himself as he reflects on all that has gone before him. From the moment Taylor (Lennon) arrives – to the sound of deafening gun shots in trademark round glasses and swathed in double-denim – this could easily be the very man who was murdered on December 8th 1980, talking from the grave about his life in the form of typically smart observations, quirky quotes and poignant one-liners.
Unlike your standard tribute act, which works as a flimsy platform with the sole intention of shoe-horning in hit-after-hit for the purpose of simply selling tickets, this is more of a group therapy session set to music… a Beatles anthology with the blanks filled-in. This is Lennon warts ‘n’ all, not just the musical genius, but also the frustrated, temperamental, vulnerable and at times stroppy individual who never seemed to accept his place in society until it was almost too late. Taylor (who recently played Mickey Finn in Alan Bleasdale’s ‘Down the Dock Road’ at the Royal Court) demonstrates a remarkable ability as a character actor and his natural ease in the role puts the performance somewhere between that of an accurate portrayal and a very flattering impersonation – complete with trademark gum chewing, nervous laughter, stifled awkwardness and self-depreciating charm. He doesn’t just have the look down to a tee either, indeed, his vocal performance is spot on too as he belts his way faultlessly through a collection of over thirty of Lennon’s most well-known numbers and later collaborations backed-up brilliantly by some magnificent piano accompaniment from Stewart D’Arrietta (also on additional vocals, sound effects and the voices of various supporting cast members, using music hall mimicry and classic comedy timing).
Despite the wit on display, it’s hard to get away from the fact that there is also an overriding sense of bitterness and resentment here towards the music industry, the trappings of fame and everything that goes with it. There are also moving tributes to the mother Lennon lost as a teenage boy and anger at the racism shown towards Yoko by some of the tabloid press. ‘Lennon – Through A Glass Onion’ is a classic and bittersweet tale from first gunshot to last. Whether it offers us anything we didn’t already know about the man himself, his life, his hopes, his fears and dreams, is open to debate – but it really doesn’t matter. If nothing else, it’s a reminder of just what the world and the music industry has missed-out on over the past four decades or so since the death of Lennon’s unique talent.
Thanks to crowd favourites like ‘Help’, ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ and ‘All You Need is Love’, interwoven with a beautifully delivered and ever-unfolding monologue, unlike the aforementioned sweet-toothed factory worker at the end of their shift, the standing ovation from the home crowd suggests that everyone wants that little bit more when Daniel Taylor’s brilliantly portrayed Lennon finally leaves the stage.
‘Lennon – Through A Glass Onion’
Epstein Theatre, Hanover Street, Liverpool
Until Saturday September 10th
Pic courtesy BEA