A TRUE STORY OF LONDON IN THE 1960sBy Adam P Kennedy & Adrienne Kennedy Palindome Productions
Sunday 19th July 2015
Courtyard Theatre, London
Adam P Kennedy talks to Adrienne Kennedy.
Adrienne Kennedy is an African American playwright, famous for her often searing insights into racism in the United States. In the 1960s she was commissioned to write a new play and the subject she chose was to base it on John Lennon’s book ‘In His Own Write’.
In 2008 she wrote a memory play about her experiences in 60s London, meeting John Lennon, Victor Spinetti and Laurence Olivier. We were privileged to see a rare performance of Mom, How Did You Meet the Beatles? at the Courtyard Theatre in London, produced by Palindrome Productions as part of their Summer Season 2015 (www.palindromeproductions.org).
This one off performance starred Debbie Korley as Adrienne and Joseph Adelakun as Adrienne’s son, Adam.
Adrienne appears as she would have in the 1960s, while her son appears as a young adult, more fitting to the current day. In the play Adam asks his mother questions and Adrienne tells her son of the times she spent in London meeting The Beatles, and becoming involved in the play.
|Actors Joseph Adelakun & Debbie Korley ~ photo by Caley Powell
Adrienne and her husband Joe had separated in the early 1960s while living in New York. At the time of this split, she was reading John’s first book and came up with the idea to write a play based around it. She wrote to Tom Maschler, John Lennon’s publisher, and eventually was told to look him up when she visited London. Adrienne and her young son, Adam, travelled to London in November 1966.
She was determined to stay in London and successfully applied for a Guggenheim grant to finance her stay. She moved to Primrose Hill at the suggestion of her friend the African American actor James Earl Jones.
Adrienne then met Victor Spinetti who had appeared in two Beatles films and was a close friend of John Lennon’s. Victor took the idea to Lennon at his home in Weybridge. John liked the idea and soon Laurence Olivier, then Artistic Director of the National Theatre, was interested in the project and wanted to meet Adrienne.
Kenneth Tynan, a well-known theatre critic of the day, met with Victor and Adrienne and a single performance of the play was agreed for December. She then went to Piccadilly with Victor to meet John. On arrival, Paul answered the door and took Adam, her son, and placed him onto his lap. “Paul had a quality that filled the room”, Adrienne recalled.
Just as they went to leave, John appeared and was introduced to Adrienne. He looked pale and thin, nothing like how she imagined him. John promised to attend the first day of rehearsals, which he did. Also present was Laurence Olivier.
A lunch followed in a nearby pub with Ringo, John and George Martin in attendance. This proved too much for Adrienne, as she was just overwhelmed to be in their presence. At her next meeting with John, he told Adrienne he was going to India with the other Beatles and that Tynan and Victor Spinetti were going to write the play.
Travelling back in John’s car she recalls him saying “Maybe it will be running when I am 30”. John at the time was 27. Olivier took her to the December performance of ‘The Lennon Play’, red carpet treatment and all. John and Cynthia were there and Adrienne then got the first impressions she was about to be dumped.
|Debbie Korley by Caley Powell
John did have the decency to call her, and offered to meet her and Victor at Apple on the following Monday. John met her saying he would straighten this mess out and rang Kenneth Tynan. “I want to keep Adrienne”, he told Tynan.
John went off to India before the play opened, and rehearsals had been taking place for 3 weeks before Adrienne was even aware that the piece was in production.
She was invited to the premier on 18 June 1968 but declined to go.
Mom, How Did You Meet the Beatles? is primarily a monologue interspersed with questions from Adam, and lasts just over one hour.
The play doesn’t delve into her feelings about how she was treated, particularly after being dumped, but just tells the story of her exciting times in London when she met The Beatles and her overwhelming awe of being with Laurence Olivier.
Well performed and worth a look, if this decides to tour.
Reviewed by ~Terry Bloxham & Ernie Sutton.