First published in The Times, Saturday August 15 2015
John Lennon may long have passed on to the great jam session in the sky but the demand for his music remains insatiable. And so, fresh off the back of a three-month run in New York, this music show-cum-spoken-word performance can sell out a 1,000-seat Fringe venue. And who can argue with that? After all, the appeal of a decent tribute act for audiences deprived of the original artist is an entirely understandable phenomenon of the pop age, even if it’s questionable whether Lennon, had he lived, would still be trawling monotonously through his back catalogue and dwelling on an intriguing, if well-trodden, backstory.
It’s not that the performers in Lennon: Through a Glass Onion lack the requisite talent, far from it. Guitarist and singer John Waters, who delivers lead vocals interspersed with significant moments from the star’s life in a credible Liverpool accent, easily hits the high notes, while Stewart D’Arrietta’s feverish piano accompaniment is also impressive. As the story moves from Lennon’s childhood and the Beatles’ early successes to his later years in the Big Apple via the rollercoaster love affair with Yoko Ono, Waters’s script does capture a little of the singer’s acerbic humour, rebellious spirit and insecurity.
The material may be sensational but the show is eminently static. No attempt whatsoever is made to vary the presentation, and even the music remains stubbornly loud and raw with a distracting echo on the vocals. Meanwhile, the narrative element primly avoids any of the more contradictory or controversial aspects of Lennon’s life and personality. Yes, fans of the Fab Four will be kept tapping along to such classics as Norwegian Wood, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and Woman but the grinding lack of dynamism means they’re also likely to leave with a stiff neck.