Pete Best turns up in this new caper about collectors of Fab Four memorabilia
In 1956 Julia Lennon showed her son John how she played the banjo and he copied her fingering on his cheap guitar. Julia Lennon was killed in a car accident in July 1958 and nobody, it would seem, knows where her banjo is now. Its value to a collector would be immense, but surely not the £5m suggested in this production.
The fate of Julia’s banjo is the premise for a new play written by Rob Fennah and staged at the Epstein Theatre, the former Neptune Theatre renamed after the Beatles’ manager. The experienced cast have been in some of our favourite TV series, the best-known being Mark Moraghan of Holby City.
A Beatles tour guide and ardent fan, Barry Seddon (Eric Potts), finds a letter written by John Lennon in 1962, cryptically describing where he has hidden the banjo. With two friends (Moraghan and Jake Abraham) who run a souvenir store, they attempt to solve the puzzle. But they need to get into the mind of John Lennon to do that, and “he wrote ‘I Am The Walrus’, for fuck’s sake.” The clever solution depends on information that the audience cannot know: it would have been better if we stood a chance of solving it too.
To complicate matters, there is a deceitful Texas dealer Travis (Danny O’Brien) who is determined to steal the banjo. Hampered by his accent, O’Brien’s diction was not too good, which was unfortunate as he had to explain plot points.His wife Cheryl, played by Stephanie Dooley, is assigned to seduce the nerdy Barry, and considering Lennon’s Banjo is marketed as a comedy, the director Mark Heller should have made it more foolish. The night-time digging around Eleanor Rigby’s grave also needed to be more ghoulish, but Richard Foxton is to be commended for his set which mimics the pop art of Peter Blake.
The quest to find the banjo takes in many Beatle locations including the Casbah club, which is now a tourist attraction still belonging to the Best family. Pete Best, the Beatles’ first drummer, now 76, is playing himself at some performances and came on stage to rapturous applause. He looked uncomfortable when questioned by the three sleuths and he drew the biggest laugh of the evening by saying to the audience, “What a gang of knobheads”.
Fennah’s previous play, Twopence To Cross The Mersey, was a massive success in the north-west and undertook a national tour. If the production team could crank up the comedy, Lennon’s Banjo could enjoy similar enduring success.