Judy Garland's fifth and final husband, Mickey Deans, explores the poisonous side of fame and fandom.
The perils of celebrity at the End of the Rainbow
Actor Nic English admits to nerves as the State Theatre Company’s End of the Rainbow transitions from the rehearsal room to its first preview audiences.
“Sometimes it feels very natural and you go, ‘Oh, this is a steady build,’ but then there are some things, particularly when an audience comes in, when you go, ‘Cool, all the things that we’ve done for four weeks, are they going to read, or have we just gotten used to them? Are they going to laugh at the things that we find funny, or is it no longer funny after four weeks?’” he says.
“[It’s] fun but also nerve-wracking.”
The actor plays opposite Helen Dallimore’s Judy Garland, as Mickey Deans, the historical star’s fifth and final husband, in a play, written by Peter Quilter and directed by Elena Carapetis, that centres around Judy’s five-week run at the Talk of the Town in London.
As much as it is a celebration of Judy Garland’s life, songs and wit, End of the Rainbow explores the push and pull of addiction, both to pills and performance, and the perennial cost of celebrity.
After an extended courting period, Mickey and Judy date, he becomes her manager, he then proposes, and, while in London, he wrestles with his dual role of protector and exploiter.
Nic, who recently returned to Adelaide after graduating from National Institute of Dramatic Arts (of which both collaborators Helen and Elena are alumnus), was first introduced to the play when Elena approached him for the role. His first read through – accompanied by the songs – was “heartbreaking.”
“You’re watching a woman spiral, and Mickey is central to that spiraling – whether or not he has good intentions or mercenary ones – and I was left with that,” Nic says.
“Even when you’re playing an antagonistic character, which Mickey Deans is, you want to be on their side, I guess, so it’s hard to talk about it with a sense of objectivity. But what I found is, even inside the relationship, when you spend so much time and you love and you care about somebody who’s addicted and falling apart, the way that you enable them, it can be exhausting and it costs you.”
The story is, of course, Judy’s, but Mickey is a lens through which the audience can question the effects of the weight produced by our own adoration and expectation can have on even a beloved artist in pain.
“There’s something about an interrogation of celebrity culture, which I think, while this play is set in 1969, in London, it still has a lot of contemporary appeal, in how we treat celebrity and addiction and, I guess, the romanticised idea of stardom,” Nic says.
“We keep on finding these people that we adore, and this is something that the play touches on, is that everybody adores them – but do we adore them because they’re tragic? And if they weren’t tragic would we adore them any less? Or is it because of those tragedies or because of that need to want to help them or fix them or rescue them.
“Judy Garland has such an incredible fanbase of people who felt that she understood them and they understood her, and similarly with contemporary examples like the Winehouses and the Whitney Houstons. I wonder if there’s a healthier way, or if it’s just a Catch-22.”
End of the Rainbow’s official opening night performance is at 8pm on Tuesday, 4 June, and the show will run through until Saturday, 22 June. Tickets are available via the State Theatre Company website.