By: Lucy Sky –
Following its Off-Broadway New York success, and acclaimed season at Liverpool’s prestigious Epstein Theatre, the celebration of the genius and music of John Lennon, Lennon: Through a Glass Onion, makes its Canadian debut this fall.
Inspired by the song “Glass Onion,” which was John Lennon’s postscript to The Beatles, the critically acclaimed show peels away the layers of time and myth to offer insight into the essence of the life and astonishing talent of one of the world’s most treasured icons.
Part-concert and part-biography, this two-hander showcases 31 hits of Lennon and Lennon/McCartney including “Imagine”, “Revolution”, “Jealous Guy”, “A Day in the Life”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” in a kaleidoscope collage of song, word and emotion.
Lennon’s unparalleled genius, spirit and illustrious catalogue are brought to life on-stage in Lennon: Through a Glass Onion, a celebration of one of the most distinct voices of his generation.
In our new interview, lead actor Daniel Taylor, who portrays John Lennon in the production, talks what it’s like to play an iconic, but controversial figure like John Lennon, his connection to the character, his favourite Beatles songs, and more!
So far what has your experience on the Lennon: Through a Glass Onion tour been like?
It’s been amazing really, absolutely incredible. I’ve visit[ed] all these amazing theatres – I just love theatres in general. I love speaking to people afterwards and hearing their responses. The material is incredible, I really enjoy speaking the words of the two Johns. John Lennon and John Waters, who wrote the show. I feel quite lucky to be singing all these great songs every night, they really are timeless songs, and speaking John Waters great words. Thanks to both the Johns!
Of course, it’s not over yet, there’s still a long way to go. I still enjoying discovering new stuff about Lennon and the story each night with the part.
What does playing such an iconic, but controversial figure like John Lennon mean to you?
It means a great deal. It’s great firstly to be working, but on top of that, it’s a role that I love, and I’m in a business I love. I’m grateful to be playing one of my heroes in a job and a business that I love.
I grew up listening to Lennon’s music. I wouldn’t say he was controversial – he was just honest. He wasn’t necessarily right, but he spoke his mind. Lennon’s opinions were controversial because they didn’t sit well with all people, but he was saying it because he felt it needed to be said. He tried to use being in the limelight in a positive way, and he was probably quite naive.
You also starred as John Lennon in the production of One Bad Thing, a play about his murder. What has it been like to be involved with a production in the celebration of his life, having already portrayed the story of his death?
I certainly had a better understanding of Lennon’s life coming into Lennon: Through A Glass Onion, because of One Bad Thing. One Bad Thing was based around the facts of whether that man – Mark Chapman, I don’t like to say his name – was brainwashed by the CIA to kill Lennon. The writer, Ian Carroll, believes Mark was brainwashed by the CIA.
So I came into the show with a better understanding of John’s life, his time, and of America at the time, in particular his struggles to get a green card. And obviously John going away for 18 months and coming back into Yoko’s life, which was mentioned in One Bad Thing. I actually acted out the lost weekend. It was much longer than a weekend, actually over an 18 month period. John got mixed up with all the hell raisers, like Harry Nillsson and Keith Moon.
How would you describe the connection you feel, if any, to John Lennon, after having spent so much time depicting him on stage?
I’ve really connected to his vulnerabilities, and connected into the tragedy of his earlier life. John sadly witnessed a lot of tragedy in his life. His father wasn’t in John’s life very much, so he practically lost a dad early on. Aunt Mimi’s husband George Toogood Smith, was very much like a surrogate father to John, and influenced the music. He helped introduce John to the harmonica. John and George were very fond of each other and they spent a lot of time together. Then George died in his early 50’s.
John’s mother went out of his life, then came back in shortly before she was killed in 1958 outside his house by a drunk off-duty policeman. It was extremely tragic. She moved in around the corner from where John was living and for a long time he didn’t know. They started meeting and it was all going great, but it wasn’t long before she was involved in the accident. John was at a particularly tender age. Those years around 17 and 18 are when you need your parents the most, especially to make that difficult transition in life from childhood to adulthood.
John was very close to his Aunt Mimi, who was a fantastic rock, and he was very protective of her. When things got crazy with The Beatles, people were camping outside her house every day, so he moved her out of Liverpool. John’s early life was marked with tragedy, but he also had these amazing relationships with George and Mimi. I think this is certainly reflected in the music, in his later actions, and is something which is explored in the show.
You’ve obviously gained success in your illustration of Lennon. Is there a method behind you getting into character for him, unique to any other character you’ve played?
I can’t say my method is unique when compared with any other character, I’m just trying to be as truthful as I can be. In this case, however, I’ve got to convince people that they’re not watching someone playing John Lennon, but that Lennon is actually on stage. The reviews have been very favourable, and suggest that I’m achieving that. I can only keep working hard. I just keep developing the character and learning more about John. There’s no room to become complacent. If there’s a method, I find watching Youtube helps to get a feel of John’s character, and I read through the script 2 – 3 times a day. I’ve set myself a goal, to try and find something new for each performance.
Have you had any response from the remaining Beatles members, or Yoko?
No, though it’s been mentioned to John Lennon’s sister, who taught me briefly. I can understand if Paul and Ringo wouldn’t want to see the show. I imagine it’d be a bit like watching a film about Hillsborough for me – too personal, too emotive, too raw. I also haven’t been doing the part long enough to be reaching out to them yet. Maybe if [I’m] doing this a year down the line, it’d be great to have them come along.
I think Paul McCartney would quite like it. I think it would appeal to him on a very human level, because about his mate. The Beatles were certainly like brothers – great mates, but also brothers too. The show’s about that, the simplicity and rawness of relationships – which is what you get when you take the crazy world of money and fame out of it.
When John Waters and Stewart D’Arrietta first put the show together, they were blessed with the support of Yoko Ono and the Lennon Estate. So this is something I’m very grateful for.
The songs that are involved in productions like these resonate and bring forth much emotion in an audience, as well as performers of course. How would you describe the whole experience on show night?
There’s a real natural build right from start of show to end, which I can only put down to the genius of John Waters and Stewart D’Arrietta. It’s very clever how it’s been put together. Even though the show’s not in chronological order, it’s a mix of songs and stories, there’s a wave that’s built up through the first act and beyond.
By the time we get to the first chords of “Imagine”, there’s this incredible feeling from this audience, like a gasp. The combination of the chords, gunshots, and everything that has come before, swell up like a wave. It’s got to be earned through the arrangement of what comes before, because without that, you wouldn’t get the same reaction. People who have watched the show many times continue to be brought to tears. It’s very cleverly arranged. I don’t want to give too much away, it’s something you have to experience for yourself.
You’re from Liverpool, and of course that means the Beatles have been a part of your life for quite some time. Is there any one song that takes you to another place when you perform?
I think that would probably be “In My Life”, which is possibly my favourite Beatles song. That’s possibly the song that I can identify with the most, it’s about the memories of our life, the people that we’ve met. It’s the song I’d connect most with Liverpool.
“Help” is also I song I find very relatable. When you’re younger, you don’t need anyone’s help. It’s quite a desperate song, but it was made upbeat. Lennon never wanted that song to be upbeat.
You’ve had a very long and full career. Would you say that every show has a bit of a different impact on your life?
Yes, because I’m a soppy old git.
How would you compare being involved in a production like this one, to say, Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens?
The team for Lennon: Through A Glass Onion is very small compared to that involved in Elegies – that team was about 20 people, and in Glass Onion it’s just myself and Stewart on stage every night. Elegies, like Glass Onion, was a very moving piece of theatre. It was trying to remove the horrible stigma attached to gay people in the 1980s, which associated them with HIV and AIDS. Elegies was written from the perspective of characters who had died of HIV and AIDS.
I suppose both that play and Lennon: Through A Glass Onion deal with loss. There’s the loss of John Lennon and how it affected people, compared with the loss of people to AIDS. Such awful things were said after the death of some people, assumptions and associations were made.
They’re both about the effect on the people left behind when a person is lost. When we lose someone close to us to HIV, we lose someone close to us. When we lost John Lennon, so much of his private life was in the media, and he was so honest, everybody felt like they knew him. People have something in common for that moment of grief.