Lennon v McCartney: Beatlemania at Out To Lunch
Playwright Stephen Kennedy on bringing a little bit of Beatlemania to the Out To Lunch festival in Belfast on January 17
Are you looking forward to the Northern Ireland debut of your plays, Lennon v McCartney and John Lennon’s Last Day at the Out To Lunch festival?
I can’t wait. I’ve read a lot of good things in recent years about Out To Lunch, so when we were invited to perform at the Black Box, it took me about a nanosecond to say, ‘Yes!’
How did the creative process differ for writing the two plays?
Lennon v McCartney is about two guys [performed by Dylan McDonough and Jonathan Judge] in a pub arguing about who is better: John Lennon or Paul McCartney. I’ve spent a good chunk of my adult life doing that very thing, so that play was very easy to write. It probably only took me a few hours to put together. John Lennon’s Last Day was different. It’s a longer play, and it took me about a year to research all the facts. Fortunately, I’m a Beatles nut, so all that research never felt like work.
You’ve also penned a third Beatles play, Death and the Beatles Fan. What made you choose to present the former two plays in Belfast?
Well, to be honest, it was mostly down to timings. The slot we have for Out To Lunch is 50 to 55 minutes, and Lennon v McCartney and John Lennon’s Last Day fit perfectly into that. But I would love to bring Death and the Beatles Fan to Northern Ireland at some point in 2013.
The three plays together, along with Beatles songs played live by Vyvienne Long and the Newspaper Taxi Men, make up The Beatles Show. It had a sold-out run at the New Theatre in Dublin in October 2012, and it’s coming back again to Dublin in April. Jesus, it only took me three questions to get the plug in!
Lennon v McCartney is set in Ireland, and the Beatles famously had Irish roots. To what extent do you think this heritage influenced their creative output?
With the exception of Ringo, all the Beatles had strong Irish roots, and, like most people in Liverpool, they were very proud of those roots. I mean, Lennon and McCartney both wrote solo songs which were explicitly about Ireland, and they loved to come here on holiday. In fact, Lennon bought a small island off the coast of Mayo in 1967, and he was hoping to retire there one day.
I’ll not ask you to give away if the characters in the play reach a conclusion, but where do you stand on the debate yourself?
There’s no way I’m answering that… sober.
John Lennon’s Last Day, starring Seamus Brennan, is billed as ‘the most complete account of John Lennon’s last day that has ever been presented’. How close is it to the established facts?
Insanely close. It was very important for me to get the facts right, and I spent a long time researching that piece. A lot of the books I read had contradictions and mistakes, so I had to double-check some points with people in New York who knew John and Yoko, or had interviewed them around that time.
Do you think the Beatles would have reunited had Mark David Chapman not murdered Lennon?
Yes, probably. The animosity between Lennon and McCartney had pretty much disappeared by the time of Lennon’s death. In fact, a few hours before he was shot, John Lennon told Dave Sholin, from San Francisco’s RKO, that he loved Paul McCartney like a brother. I suspect the Beatles would probably have reunited for Live Aid if Chapman hadn’t killed John Lennon.
Have any of the surviving Beatles seen the plays, or been in touch?
I don’t think so. Lennon v McCartney was performed on the main stage at International Beatles Week in Liverpool in 2010, so maybe word got back to Paul or Ringo. You never know. If either of them drops me an email, I’ll gladly squeeze them in for a pint of Guinness and a chat.
Would you be keen to see a ‘reunion’ today of McCartney, Starr and sidemen under the Beatles name, à la Queen or the Doors?
Jesus, no! It’s better to leave perfection alone. Let it be.
How have the plays been received by both hardcore fans and casual observers?
As you might expect, I wrote these plays for Beatles fans, and the obsessives will not go away disappointed. I share their disease! But in October, there were a few ladies who came up to me after the shows and said they weren’t really into the Beatles, but they enjoyed the plays. It was a nice – and unexpected – boost for my ego.
What future projects are you working on, and would you consider writing a full-length play about the Beatles?
I think it’s unlikely, but never say never, I suppose. I have other plays I’m working on, and I had a poem published in the Irish Times a few weeks ago, so I should get that first collection sorted. In Beatles terms, I’m helping to organise the Dublin Beatles Festival, which will take place from November 7-10, 2013. It’s going to be four days of Beatlemania to mark the 50th anniversary of the only shows the Fab Four ever played in Dublin. It’s going to be something very special.
What do you think is the secret to the band’s enduring popularity?
The Beatles had it all. The songs, of course. The musicianship. The look. The wit. The perfect management, in the early days anyway. The perfect producer, along with the perfect recording set-up. By some complete fluke, it all came together in the right place at the right time. I don’t think it’ll ever happen again.
Lennon v McCartney and John Lennon’s Last Day are at the Black Box, Belfast, on January 17 at 1pm as part of Out To Lunch 2013.