GET BACK The Lennon & McCartney Songbook. Produced and performed by: Melissa Langton, Libby O'Donovan and Mark Jones at The Q, Queanbeyan, September 15-17, 2011.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
In the spirit of a willing suspension of disbelief, especially in view of this image and the exhortation to “expect highbrow harmony and lowbrow comedy - and the occasional joke about one-legged ex-models”, I allowed myself to enjoy the singing, piano playing and some of the arrangements of Lennon and McCartney songs. There’s no doubt about the technical musicianship skills of all three performers.
But I found myself unsure of what kind of show I was watching and how I should respond. Cabaret can mean anything from the dark and sultry to stand-up comedy, and there were bits of both here, but the linking material – the patter – was too much and often too puerile for the Lennon and McCartney quality, and indeed for the Qeanbeyan audience. Odious comparisons, for example, with the possibly fictional worst audience in Mt Isa were quite unnecessary and set up an atmosphere completely at odds with songs like Help, Let It Be and Imagine which were performed with seriousness of intent, as they should be.
Despite the manner of John Lennon’s passing and perhaps because of Paul McCartney’s subsequent career, marital as well as on stage, it is fair that they should not be treated with undue reverence. I could accept Ob La Di Ob La Da in the style of an old-fashioned American square-dancing hoe down as a humorous take that I can suspect Paul might have had fun with in the studio. I wasn’t so sure, though, about a Southern Baptist religiosity approach to Let It Be. This arrangement seemed to be more about don’t let your ideology go, no matter what. But the right mood was captured for the medley based on the feelings of depression living in an oppressive society expressed in Help (even though this segment was the cause, apparently, of a Mt Isa yobbo crying “bullshit” because it wasn’t rock’n’roll).
Of course the weakest moment, but for us in Canberra-Queanbeyan the funniest, was when the obligatory audience participation call went out for a volunteer to face a quiz on their knowledge of Lennon and McCartney songs. Though the quiz turned out to be a spoof, no-one put their hand up for some embarrassing minutes until finally a certain Moya Simpson held up her partner’s hand and John Shortis took the stage. Despite the performers’ previous praising of the great experience of being in Queanbeyan, their research had not discovered Shortis and Simpson, our very own political cabaret team. The secret was never revealed, while John was renamed ‘Paul’ and gave his answers almost shyly as is his wont, to great cheers from we who were in the know.
In the end, it was good to hear Mark Jones’ version of Imagine. This really was the dreamer speaking, and he was not alone. And the a capella encore of Live and Let Die was a strong and worthy conclusion to the show.
The quality of these items showed up the need for less patter – especially about themselves and their show – and more sophisticated linking of the items with Beatles history and how the medleys were put together, to put the good work, and humour, into the right context.