Theatre Review: End of the Rainbow

Judy Garland, as portrayed by Helen Dallimore
Photo by Chris Herzfeld courtesy of State Theatre Company

Who: State Theatre Company of South Australia, dir. Elena Carapetis

What: End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter

When: June 6th – June 22nd

Where: The Royalty Theatre

How much: See website for details

Judy Garland, Hollywood sweetheart and beloved songstress, is brought back to life on the Royalty Theatre stage in Peter Quilter’s End of the Rainbow. On stage, Garland was a force to be reckoned with, with her signature voice that was so raw and powerful. But offstage, her life was plagued by alcoholism, a string of failed marriages and a pill addiction originating from her performative childhood.

Set in the late 60s, during the final months of Judy’s tumultuous life, Judy (Helen Dallimore) is living in a London hotel to perform a series of concerts in the hopes of salvaging herself from debt. She is joined by her newly engaged beau Mickey Deans (Nic English) and her British pianist Anthony Chapman (Stephen Sheehan), who have to negotiate the erratic and unpredictable behaviour of Judy. The arguing between Mickey and Judy is constant and passionate – we’re regularly reminded that this will be her fifth marriage. As they rally back and forth, Chapman diffuses the situation witty, affectionate quips and swift solutions.

Sheehan, Dallimore and English
Photo by Chris Herzfeld courtesy of State Theatre Company

Dallimore’s performance, with her incredible likeness and stellar singing voice belting the classic tunes, truly showcased the duality of Judy. Her perfectly wicked and dry sense of humour, her cynicism of her ruby-slippered past and glorious confidence could give way, dissolving into panic and insecurity that overcame her due to stage fright, alcoholism and addiction. Regardless of all these pressures, as soon as she hits the spotlight her incredible voice and zeal dominate the stage.

The set design in itself was a delightful surprise as the lavish hotel suite transforms into a glitzy cabaret stage instantly, with her name in lights and beaming archways that framed the stage. Garland is dressed equally as lavishly in sparkling ball gowns and pantsuits of the era.

The dynamic between the three reaches a pinnacle: with the constant fight to keep Judy sober and performing, Deans becomes increasingly more controlling. As the relationships begin to crack and sour, Judy begins to spiral into desperation. Rumoured to have played a part in Judy’s demise, her final husband relents to her begging for pills and alcohol as to fuel what were to be her final performances. This results in the play ultimately tapering off into a fairly anticlimactic ending with Judy coming to an all too familiar demise. This tale destined for tragedy, culminates in a final and unforgettable rendition of Over the Rainbow.

End of the Rainbow was a heartbreaking and sharp depiction of the enigma that was Judy Garland. Helen Dallimore’s exceptional portrayal of the legend truly encapsulated the poise and fervour of the woman who lived and breathed performance.

4 out of 5 stars.

Milly Farmer

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