In 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged a week-long press conference from their bed in a hotel in Montreal. Set in the round, in the intimate space of the Cockpit Theatre, Bed Peace opens with the narrator, an exuberant and likeable Helen Foster, outlining the setting in rhyming couplets. It hurtles through some personal history, from Yoko’s miscarriage, through the couple’s wedding in Gibraltar, to their eventual bed-in in Montreal (although, curiously, it makes no mention of an earlier bed-in, which took place in Amsterdam).
As the couple recline in silk pyjamas they host a range of activists and press, who bombard them with questions and accusations. Here, the arguments are entirely black and white, both literally and metaphorically. “We look at the TV and see another white man telling us to stay groovy,” says a black activist. “I know you’ve had it hard. All you need to do is put on a smile,” replies her white counterpart.
It’s an energetic production, with neatly choreographed moves by the cast of seven, despite the inevitably static nature of the setting. But it’s also humourless and didactic, with political polemic standing in for conversation. The talented supporting cast add a lot of sparkle, and Jung Sun Den Hollander’s Yoko Ono is a strong, calm voice amid all the shouting.
Craig Edgely’s Lennon is the weak point in the show, with an erratic and faltering Liverpudlian accent. His frantic, aggressive delivery has none of the real John Lennon’s sardonic, laid-back wit, and when he performs a solo version of In My Life his furious guitar playing – which crucially omits a defining major/minor chord change – drowns out his quiet, unamplified voice.
The text is largely taken from interviews and recordings made at the time, which has its pros and cons: a lengthy phone conversation with campaigning Berkeley students uses original recordings of that conversation, which are rendered almost unintelligible by the amplification. There are also some curious anomalies: the second half opens with three monologues from unnamed contributors, one of which involves a mobile phone, yet there’s no explanation of why this episode should have leapt forwards 50 years.
Bed Peace is an interesting historical record, inventively staged and performed with enthusiasm; but there’s little subtlety here, and a curious absence of historical perspective.
Written and Directed by: Rocky Rodriguez Jr
Produced by: Helen Foster/Lyna Dubarry
Box Office: 020 7258 2925
Booking Link: https://tickets.thecockpit.org.uk/sales/shows/bed-peace
Booking until: 28th April 2019