Writer: Isobel Barrett
Director: Isobel Barrett
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
Beyond The Rainbow, staged in the intimate, candle-lit, cabaret club style surroundings of The Shed in Glasgow, charts the troubled life of the legendary Judy Garland. This little gem of a musical play, from the pen of Isobel Barrett, flashes back from the sad spectacle of Garland’s final disastrous days to her early life as a child star, through the abuse she suffered at the hands of studio executives and the endless quest for love and acclaim from her audience, a love which so sadly eluded her in her private life.
Garland’s decline has been much-charted, most recently in Peter Quilter’s triumphant End of the Rainbow, and there has been the tendency to descend into well-worn cliché in its telling, but Barrett resists this, managing to get to the heart of the woman and examine the demos which drove her to such a sorry end. A woman who, reflecting on her teenage years at MGM said: “They’d give us pep pills then they’d take us to the studio hospital and knock us cold with sleeping pills, after four hours they’d wake us up and give us the pep pills again”. The play cleverly interweaves some of Garland’s finest tunes into the action, retaining the narrative thread while punctuating the piece with colour and emotion, and giving the audience the chance to hear these beloved songs sung live.
Noreen Boyle is triumphant as Garland, delivering a highly emotive and finely nuanced performance. Not only does her voice manage to capture the star’s famous vibrato but she also manages to convincingly convey the torture Garland endured both physically and psychologically throughout her life. Drugged by both pills and the unquenchable desire for acclaim from her audience, it is often painful to watch as she manages to wring yet another performance from her drug riddled body. She trembles before us, a tiny, vulnerable figure captured in the spotlight, trapped between the the desire to run and the desire for acclaim from her audience.
This is no cheap cabaret or jukebox musical but a compelling and intense two hander which refuses to shy away from the less palatable aspects of Garland’s life. It leaves both performer and audience moved, but ultimately uplifted by the feeling that you have been in the presence of a legend.
There’s definitely gold at the end of this rainbow, unmissable.