Looking Through Lennon

In the summer of 1992, John Waters took on a three-week vacancy in the cabaret room of the Tilbury Hotel in Sydney, armed with a vague idea for a stage show and six weeks to pull it all together. The resulting production was a study of the tumultuous and uneasy life of John Lennon, and with the support of fellow musician and friend Stewart D’Arietta, Looking Through A Glass Onion was an instant hit. “We were really quite a phenomenal cult success in that little room,” says Waters, “we had people hanging from the rafters; they couldn’t fit enough people in. So we knew we had just hit on something.”

Despite its triumphant beginnings, Waters had no idea that his new show would become an enduring feature of the Australian performing arts landscape. Fast forward 20-odd years and after several national tours and a stint in London’s West End, Waters and D’Arrietta will this month embark on one last east coast stretch before taking Looking Through A Glass Onion to New York – the city Lennon called home from 1971 to the end of his life.

“Lennon was a political person,” says Waters, “and he was a severely damaged person who did his own therapy through songs… He was a very autobiographical song writer, and that’s what makes for such a great vehicle.” Far from the banal cover acts and gaudy tribute shows often associated with such larger-than-life figures, Looking Through A Glass Onion is stripped-back, elegant storytelling: a man with a guitar conjuring a narrative through words and song.

According to Waters, in Looking Through A Glass Onion we see the last thoughts of a dying man. “The show starts with five gunshots ringing out on stage,” says Waters, “while Stewart D’Arietta sings a poignant song called the Liverpool Lullaby…and we return to this guy standing across the road at the end of the show. So the show takes place in John Lennon’s mind in the space of one second. That is, if you like, a kind of artistic concept I have about what it is.”

More than thirty years after his death, Lennon remains an elusive and haunting figure that divides fans into those who lived through that time in history, and those who didn’t. Although Looking Through A Glass Onion has always been popular with baby-boomers, Waters has found in his audiences a growing presence of teenagers and twenty-somethings for whom the political and social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s is largely encapsulated in that image of weary eyes peering out through round-rimmed glasses.

Lennon fans would say his music bridges the generation gap, engaging with some seemingly universal dissatisfaction with the order of things. “It’s a youthful rebellion thing,” says Waters. “It’s the duty and the right of all youth to rebel. It’s even the duty of some youth today to rebel against bands such as the Beatles to say, ‘hey, get over it you guys, we’ve got new music.’ And that’s cool too… The older generation will always come to this show, but the growing numbers of younger people coming in is a great thing to see. And it’s the younger ones who are rather gobsmacked, actually, at how much of a figure [Lennon] was in life and politics and in newspapers for a long, long time.”

Looking Through A Glass Onion comes to life Friday 17 January at the Frankston Arts Centre. For more information, head to www.artscentre.frankston.vic.gov.au


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