“We’re serious about the peace bit you know. If we make people laugh, that’s enough.”
John Lennon, who said these words while wearing a big pair of ill-fitting white pyjamas, was a comedy fan. And nowhere was he more keen to stress the importance of laughter than at the legendary ‘bed-in’ protests, staged with his partner Yoko Ono at Amsterdam and Montreal in 1969.
Rocky Rodriquez Jnr’s Bed Peace takes us back to those times, but it also fixes a steely glare at 2019. It positions John and Yoko’s story as part of a wider narrative, one that continues in a world of mansplaining, snowflakes, the MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter. Were John and Yoko trailblazers or were they hypocrites? Were they activists or were they clowns? Is it still worth giving peace a chance?
It’s a potentially fascinating area of examination but, unfortunately, Rodriquez’s production is all a bit of a mess. Not least because Lennon’s humour is almost entirely absent. The dialogue is frequently expositional and soapy, the allusions to Beatles lyrics (at one point Lennon actually says ‘Christ you know it ain’t easy!’) is top-level cringe, and the whole thing generally feels finger-waggy and leaden. It also doesn’t help that Craig Edgley, while giving a decent depiction of Lennon’s petulant schoolboy vulnerability, can’t really do the voice.
There are moments when the parallels between past and present open up interesting avenues, but these all too quickly become sealed off again. What could be fiery and unsettling exchanges ultimately end up sounding like columnists reading out articles, and nobody goes to the theatre to watch that.
The show has been made with the (necessary) co-operation of Yoko Ono and Paul McCartney, which has inevitably led to a certain amount of hagiography. But given this, it’s strange that Yoko’s own story seems to be largely airbrushed out. She’s brilliantly played by Jung Sun Den Hollander, but we learn little about her status as a radical artist in her own right, reduced as she is to the role of a slightly mumsy mediator.
Indeed, for a show that seeks to ask difficult questions about privilege, it’s ironic that it still ends up firmly centring Lennon. It definitely seemed a bit of an own-goal to end the play with the narrator reading out a series of dull stats about how well Imagine did in the charts.
There’s great potential in Bed Peace as an idea, and I really wanted to like it. Sadly this production’s a bit of a snooze, with very little excitement between the sheets.
Bed Peace: The Ballad of Yohn and Joko is on until 28 April http://thecockpit.org.uk/