Lennon: Through a Glass Onion

John R. Waters takes on the challenging task of being John Lennon in a series of monologues and songs for Lennon: Through a Glass Onion, accompanied by Stewart D’Arietta on the piano. They perform a wide range of Lennon’s songs in relation to the subject of each first-person monologue in this simply staged yet dramatic performance.

This show has clearly come from a desire to celebrate a figure loved by its creators, and that shines through.

Both Waters and D’Arietta are excellent performers, with stage presence and more than enough musical ability - neither puts a foot wrong, save a slightly dodgy scouse accent from Waters, and both the music and monologues are performed brilliantly and with a great deal of energy. However, the show itself cannot quite match their skill. The portrayal of a real person that so many identify with but so few truly knew is assuredly very difficult to achieve, and this particular interpretation suffers from a lack of complexity. Lennon is put on a kind of pedestal, with very little flaws apparent in the character. While this is doubtless partially due to the use of the first person - Lennon would perhaps be unlikely to recognise his own flaws - we are regardless rarely shown anything that goes beyond a simple celebration of Lennon as a unique genius. This is a shame as the performers are clearly capable enough to explore a more in-depth and complicated version of Lennon as a character.

The show is also somewhat stunted by a focus on foreshadowing Lennon’s eventual tragic death. It begins and ends the same way. This is not necessarily an absolutely worthless artistic decision, but the dramatic and tense tone of the opening remained throughout the piece in the form of similar backing music and Waters’ tone, which retained its ominous tone from the opening monologue on the subject of Lennon’s murderer onwards. This then had the effect of oddly flattening the well-written jokes in the show, meaning a little of Lennon’s signature sense of humour was lost in the overall portrayal.

Another issue came with the music itself. There is something slightly magical for Beatles fans in listening to Lennon’s work live, and the songs have been arranged differently for this show. This occasionally produces wonderful results, such as the poignant performance of Nowhere Man, but for the most part the arrangements were self-indulgent, a little inappropriate to the style of Lennon’s writing, and, at times, irritating. Numbers that were jazzed up too far ended up as more Elton John than John Lennon.

This show is however never boring, and explores some angles to and anecdotes from Lennon’s life that may be news to some. I would question the decision to mention orientalist racism towards Yoko Ono and then later on play an impression of a Chinese person for laughs, but on the whole the monologues themselves were interesting and the songs retain the charm that so many know and love. This show has clearly come from a desire to celebrate a figure loved by its creators, and that shines through.

Reviews by Laurie Kilmurry

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The Blurb

Following its Off Broadway New York success! Lennon: Through a Glass Onion celebrates the genius, music and phenomenon of John Lennon. Part concert and part biography, the show reveals the true essence of the life and astonishing talent of one of the world’s most treasured icons. Featuring 31 hits of Lennon and Lennon/McCartney including Imagine, Strawberry Fields Forever, Revolution, Woman, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and Working Class Hero. 'A deeply felt reflection of the man. Savour every minute' (New York Times). 'Lennon’s spirit shines through' (New York Post). 'Brilliant' (Spectator).