End of the Rainbow written by Peter Quilter. Directed by Terry Johnson. Pinstripe Productions and Royal & Derngate, Northampton. At first, you could think of the many biographical pieces of theatre that attempt to delve into the life of a diva. I also think of the many GCSE drama students who try to immortalize Marilyn Monroe and her tragic ending. At a time when the ink telling the sad news of Amy Winehouse is still wet, comes this poignant and intense piece of theatre that blew me away.

Out of the set (a gorgeous London Ritz hotel room that provides the backdrop to most the play) comes the club venue ‘Talk of the Town’ where Judy ploughed on with her umpteenth comeback show. Tracie Bennett (a string of UK theatre, TV and film, mostly recognized from Emmerdale) gives an outstanding performance that raised the hair on the back of my neck. She delivered what felt like a true raw performance, moving from dark humour and wit to pieces of intense drama – crumbling the international sensation of Garland before our very eyes – one moment she’s up, the next she’s literally down on the floor begging for more drugs and liquor.

Just before the interval we’re treated to Gershwin’s  ‘The Man That Got Away’ – a haunting performance where you’re allowed to engage with and left vulnerable with the wreck of a woman that’s crumbling before us.

“It’s a terrible thing to know what you’re capable of and never get there.”
Judy in End of the Rainbow.

Bennett is joined by Hilton McRae (Anthony), Norman Bowman (her last husband, Mickey Deans) and a variety of guises from ASM Robert Maskell. McRae plays her gay (and bitter) pianist, which balances dry wit with Judy’s dark humour. A nod to Judy’s gay fans (and the many that made up the audience) continued throughout the play adding comic relief often amongst moments of intensity that deal with the star’s demise that seemed to have begun as that child star we all remember.

The opening night at the first leg of the UK tour, here at Theatre Royal Norwich, got a standing ovation and I’m sure it will be getting many more.

For more information about this production and its UK tour, check out:www.endoftherainbowtour.com