“I have swallowed and vomited more pills than you could ever imagine!”
Judy Garland coped with the chaotic life of being a superstar by taking handfuls of tablets – until a massive overdose brought about her untimely death at the age of just 47.
On Friday night the cast of Peter Quilter’s award-winning drama, End of The Rainbow, probably wished they could take a pill to make them forget the show’s disastrous opening at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre.
But full marks to the company’s technical crew, who went into action after the sound was so badly corrupted that actor Gary Wilmot called a halt to the play, eight minutes in, and took everyone off the stage.
More than 15 minutes later the show resumed “at the most inappropriate moment we could find” where we found Lisa Maxwell’s Garland on her knees committing a sex act with her fiancé Mickey Deans (Sam Attwater with his trousers around his ankles). It was a helluva pick-up and one which brought a raucous cheer from relieved theatre-goers.
After that it was business as usual. End of The Rainbow is set in 1969 and concentrates on the last few months of the screen icon’s life. She was in London to perform a six-week residency at the Talk of the Town, once the biggest cabaret venue on the circuit.
With Garland was her handsome boyfriend, 35-year-old nightclub owner, musician and her new manager Deans, 12 years her junior. The Hollywood star was flat broke and desperately needed the gig to pay her mounting bills but, at the same time, was falling apart from a lifetime’s drink and drugs habit.
Deans, full of good intentions, tries to keep her clean and sober but it soon becomes apparent that the legend, who was fed pills as a 13-year-old by her pushy mother, is unable to perform without help.
At one stage she is so desperate for drugs that she steals her pianist’s stash – only to discover that they were for his sister’s dog which suffered from mange.
One of the funniest scenes in the production follows as Judy jokily playing the mutt in front of an amused Deans and her adoring gay piano-player Anthony Chapman (Wilmot).
Quilter’s play shifts from her London hotel suite to the cabaret stage where we see snatches of Garland’s performances. There’s also a brief scene set at the BBC where she unravels live on air as a radio jock (played by Simon Pontin) attempts to interview the star.
This revival of End of the Rainbow makes poignant watching. Judy was, at one time, the biggest name on the planet but her fragile ego was set to self-destruct and her demise inevitable.
There are great performances from the three stars. The experienced Gary Wilmot avoids gay stereotypes and gives a beautifully nuanced turn as Chapman.
The pianist clearly worships the entertainer and, in one touching scene, he tenderly takes the terrified Garland, who is shaking with stage fright, and applies her make-up, sealing the operation with a loving kiss.
Sam Attwater, who I’m so used to seeing in musicals, here doesn’t sing a note but gives a good turn as Deans and actually bears a close resemblance to him.
For me the weak link is Lisa Maxwell. She has a fabulous singing voice and performs all of Garland’s iconic tunes wonderfully. However, she neither looks or sounds, in speech or in song, anything like Garland. The actress isn’t helped by an atrocious wig or any effort made to reproduce the icon’s distinctive look with make-up.
And I watched thinking that the smooth-skinned Maxwell was too young to play the wrinkled and haggard star whose appearance, at the end, had considerably worsened thanks to her indulgences – until I Googled the Loose Women presenter and discovered that she is actually older than Garland was when she died back in 1969.
However, End of the Rainbow is a powerful and compelling story of how destructive showbiz can be for its highest flyers, whether it’s Garland in the 1960s or Amy Winehouse 42 years later.
End of the Rainbow opens in Bromley tomorrow night.
2026 Tour Dates
March 8-12, BROMLEY Churchill Theatre March 15-19, TORQUAY Princess Theatre March 22-26, WINDSOR Theatre Royal March 29-April 2, BRIGHTON Theatre Royal April 5-9, MALVERN Festival Theatre April 18-20, WOLVERHAMPTON Grand Theatre April 26-30, GLASGOW King’s Theatre May 3-7, MANCHESTER Opera House May 9-11, BILLINGHAM Forum Theatre May 12-14, SHEFFIELD Lyceum Theatre May 16-18, LICHFIELD Garrick Theatre May 19-21, NEWCASTLE Tyne Theatre & Opera House May 24-28, RICHMOND THEATRE May 31-June 4, BURY ST EDMUNDS Theatre Royal June 7-11, WOKING New Victoria Theatre June 14-18, HIGH WYCOMBE Swan Theatre June 21-25, BIRMINGHAM New Alexandra Theatre July 5-9, CHELTENHAM Everyman Theatre
End Of The Rainbow
Peter Quilter’s award-winning End of the Rainbow is a powerful & compelling story of how destructive showbiz can be for its highest flyers, whether it’s Garland in the 1960s or Amy Winehouse 42 years later.