This Girl: The Cynthia Lennon Story, written and directed by Mike Howl, is the story of Cynthia Lennon, John Lennon’s first wife and mother of their son Julian. Presented as part of International Beatles Week, it explores the life of an ordinary middle-class Wirral girl who became part of one of the most extraordinary stories in British music history.
The play opens by introducing a young John (Adam Byrne) and Cynthia (Christina Rose) and their friends Phyllis Mackenzie (Rachel McGrath), Stuart Sutcliffe (Lew Freeburn), Dot Rhone (Ciara O’Neil) and Vera (Florence King).
The story follows John and Cynthia through the turbulent early days of their relationship, during which he showed tendencies to be jealous and violent. When Cynthia finds out she is pregnant, the couple marry, though they are forced to keep this secret due to the success of The Beatles and the fact that their fans would be upset to learn John was taken.
As Beatlemania ensues, John and Cynthia begin to grow apart. Cynthia becomes frustrated with John’s unwillingness to be an attentive father, and he persuades her to take a short break in Greece. When she returns she finds John with Yoko Ono and their relationship breaks down.
It is always difficult to tell someone’s life story in a two hour play, which makes it particularly interesting to see which elements make the cut. This is very much the story of Cynthia in relation to John. There are many features of her life missing and some characters, such as Roberto Bassanini (Kevin Thomas), fade into the ether with little to no explanation.
There are a number of video inserts in the play. These are somewhat shaky and slightly out of sync. It was not clear whether this was a deliberate attempt to “age” the clips or a technical issue and it is hard to see their value. While the opening sketch in the pub is fun and adds some character to the story, the remaining inserts could have been part of the live performance. This would have maintained the pace of the show and given more life to the story being portrayed.
The play often feels like a series of vignettes, during which tension is built but sadly trails off before being fully realised. Much of the story is told to the audience through conversations between the characters, and more drama could be achieved through showing the ordinary within extraordinary lives.
The roles of Cynthia and John are well performed by four actors, with Mikyla Jane Durkan and Peter Durr playing the couple when they are older. While it is clear that the change of actors is there to indicate the passage of time, and Rose’s wide-eyed innocence being replaced by Durkan’s self-assurance was felt, it did feel slightly unnecessary. Using one actor for each of the roles may have allowed for more character development through the detailed exploration of the fuller story, which in turn could have improved the depth of the show as a whole. The portrayal of the couple feels at times a little monochromatic, with Cynthia being the image of perfection and John viciously aggressive or painfully uncaring, which causes a lack of realism.
Florence King gave a particularly good performance as Astrid, Stuart’s German girlfriend. Although a small part, this was a well developed character and the tenderness shown between Freeburn and King was beautiful. It seems unfortunate that the script did not make clear the circumstances of the tragic end to their relationship for audience members who are not familiar with their story.
Sanders’ portrayal of Brian Epstein is excellent, from his gentle and understated mannerisms to the hints of the darkness plaguing his life which was depicted in a mesmerising way. Another small role, Sanders is an accomplished actor who gives an incredibly emotional performance.
Overall this is an interesting play which highlights some of the key events in the life of a woman who often fades into the background of the Merseybeat story. The original music featured stops it from feeling like a Beatles tribute show, and the writer and cast have clearly worked hard to pay tribute to a remarkable lady.
This Girl: The Cynthia Lennon Story is being performed at the Hope Street Theatre until 26th August 2019. Tickets are available here https://tinyurl.com/y6zmhyra
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 22nd August 2019
North West End Rating: ★★★