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New Theatre, Cardiff
Tue 20 Sept


To go into End of the Rainbow expecting the finest drama known to man would be going into the theatre completely missing the point. As the production’s name suggests, this is a tribute to the better days where two opposing images of the performer Judy Garland uncomfortably collide. And, as memories of sepia-tinted innocence clash with a worldly, eccentric and intoxicated cynicism, we witness the replay of an aftermath which crescendos towards the very public end of a life lived in the spotlight.

This positioning immediately creates a great challenge for the producers beyond the show. How does one present a creative, stand-alone piece while maintaining the sense of loss befitting a performer standing in the shadow of her previous glory? How does one engineer such a work so that its star manages to actively and strongly represent, not simple embody, an idea of weakness? These questions, regrettably, are left frustratingly unresolved and the piece’s self-reflective status as a musical commenting on the demise of a musician leads to an integral, inescapable contradiction. Indeed, like a young actress force-fed amphetamines by her studios, End of the Rainbow was set up to fail.

But, against this, Tracie Bennett’s Judy bears an awareness of her own power and cult status which enables her frail figure to fill the imposing stage and allows the production to provide an enriching continuation of the Garland myth. Ghosts of the classic film are evident as the performer decides whether or not to wear a pair of red shoes to a radio interview and as, in a particularly desperate moment, she makes shameless, self-sacrificial demands on a manager at the Ritz, asking ‘How’s it gonna look when you’ve got Dorothy splattered over your red carpet’.

End of the Rainbow is a self-consciously elevated portrayal of Garland and her reputation. As we applaud songs huskily delivered through tar-stained vibrato, one gets the sense that we have become unwittingly complicit in the repetition of history. In realist drama, Bennett’s songs would form uninterrupted nuggets of characterisation; in musical theatre, her vocals echo Garland’s final concerts not just in presentation, but also in reception. Like the thousands of Brits who turned up to witness Garland’s season at the Talk of the Town, we are guilty of perpetuating a damaging breed of fame as our applause sees us play the part of a demanding, destructive audience. This is a clever, though-provoking parallel, yet encompasses another of the production’s unresolved contradictions where the audience arguably unwittingly play a part that no-one’s left to view. It certainly makes for unsettling viewing.

It will come as a surprise to few that there’s no pot of gold at the end of this particular rainbow. If Miss Garland’s most famous song was one of innocence and hope, this musical is its bitter antidote as it dishes out a snarling reminder that Happily Ever Afters are sometimes nothing more than delusional, failed fantasies.

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  • paul johnson

    5 star reviews in the west end. 4 olivier award nominations. A broadway run in march. Miss Forsbrook doesn't have a clu and has missed the point completely. I think this show is phenomenal. And so did everyone in thje audience except her, all who gave it a standing ovation and applause and cheers like you've never heard. go see it!

    • guest

      It would help if we knew exactly what she is saying. I can't understand the write-up at all.

  • Thanks for the response, Paul. It's always so interesting to hear other people's opinions.

  • guest

    you should look at this Amelia; particularly the video with top notch critics' quotes

  • guest

    Reviewers are entitled to their opinion but, Amelia, were you actually there at the show?
    This was for me one the the best theatre performances I have ever seen. Standing ovations every night before the show has actually quite finished confirm that most almost everyone who has witnessed this agree what a wonderful performance this was.

  • Carole Young

    Where you there?

  • Thank you for the comments. As a developing writer, it's really helpful to get feedback on my work. I'll definitely take all these comments on board and will take more care in communicating my ideas. Looking back on it, this review is certainly not my clearest and it's good to have this highlighted so that I can improve.
    What I will stand by, though, is my opinion of the show. I was there and I did see the standing ovation — but this does not automatically mean my review should be positive. I believe it is my duty in writing to give MY untainted opinion of a performance. Not that of my best friend. Not that of my editor. Not that of the charming man I was chatting to after the show. I didn't like End of the Rainbow but I'm glad you guys did. Our differences of opinion just make theatre all the more exciting.
    Right, that's all from me for now but thanks again for your feedback. It is very gratefully received.

  • Dean

    I have only just fallen upon this review and find it hard to picture what Amelia is actually on about. I saw it both in London and Cardiff and am happy that it is hitting Broadway with Miss Bennett.
    I strongly believe that Buzz or any other publication should think again before inviting Amelia to review any pieces. We should be proud to get these masterpieces visiting our theatres in Cardiff. And i no as fact that this review would have been passed to Miss Bennett. How demoralising.

    Shame on this obviously closed eye reviewer.

    • Hi Dean.
      If you can bear reading my review again, you will see that I didn't actually criticise Tracie Bennett's performance. In fact, I praised her for giving a very good shot at an intrinsically problematic role…