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End of the Rainbow review at Churchill Theatre, Bromley – ‘classy, spirited revival’

Lisa Maxwell as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow at Churchill Theatre, Bromley. Photo: Pamela Raith Lisa Maxwell in End of the Rainbow at Churchill Theatre, Bromley. Photo: Pamela Raith
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Even in an era peppered with historical child-abuse litigation, it’s still difficult to imagine the teenage Judy Garland and others regularly being fed narcotics by the film studios to keep her going. The resulting addictions notoriously impacted on her career, but with vaudevillian resilience the star always managed to struggle back into the spotlight.

Peter Quilter’s play catches the tail end of Garland’s career, when she accepted an unthinkable six-week gig at Talk of the Town in London on the advice of her new beau, Mickey Deans.

Undoubtedly the draw in this play is the central performance, and Tracie Bennett’s Tony-nominated turn in Terry Johnson’s 2010 production may still be fresh in the memories of some audience members. Lisa Maxwell may not quite match Bennett’s vulnerability in the role but she has an underlying feistiness that signposts Garland’s addictive personality.

Maxwell’s Garland has balls bigger than either of the male characters in this play, and it’s funny and tragic how she is able to manipulate Sam Attwater’s burly, charismatic Mickey and Gary Wilmot’s sensitively pitched Anthony.

Vocally, Maxwell nails the back catalogue of hits and that trademark vibrato with relative authenticity but it’s the chemistry between these three players that defines this production.

David Shields’ set design captures the opulence of a five-star hotel with a satisfying attention to detail and slides simply into the suggestion of a night club without too much fuss. David W Kidd’s lighting occasionally lacks subtlety but otherwise this is a fresh, classy production with a big-band soundtrack that helps clarify the life and death of an icon.

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Strong production values and a talented, sympathetic cast lend class to this spirited revival