by Lucy Allen
In 1969 John Lennon and Yoko Ono declared they would stay in their hotel bed in Montreal for one week to promote peace around the world and to stop violent wars. Thirty years later, the world is just as violent, but draft89’s production John/Yoko Bed Piece, currently playing at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, hopes to reintroduce this message of peace by recreating the couple’s famous week.
The show is labelled as an “installation piece” and in some ways it is. Before even entering the theatre, you’re introduced to the various characters of the show, all milling about the lobby or sitting in circles leading sing-alongs.
I have to admit, I got excited when we were led into the theatre and instead of conventional seating there was an assortment of couches and cushions set up. John (Graham Porter) and Yoko (Sharon Marquez) were already in bed, talking to anyone who approached them, and I prepared myself to be dragged and immersed into the world of the show.
Sadly, most of the audience participation ended there, and what followed was a more conventional play, with the audience sitting in a dimmed theatre separated from what was going on onstage. I think it was this shift in expectations combined with a depressingly conservative audience (one even shot me a glare when I dared to laugh at a line,) that made the show jarring for me and my show partner Amber.
Where the show shines is in its musical numbers, which paint the best picture of a world now lost to history. At the end, when the infamous recording of “Give Peace a Chance” began, the entire audience was invited to sing along, and by the end everyone was clapping (out of rhythm in my case) and joining in.
Along with the great singing of course came a couple of stand-out performances. Graham Porter as John Lennon perfectly captured his mannerisms while making the character his own at the same time. Devin Upham as cartoonist Al Capp was wonderfully cynical and embodied his character fully.
The rest of the show ends up being sort of a mixed bag. The hippies and reporters hanging out with Lennon are all fairly one-dimensional, serving no other purpose than to worship their idol. The wigs and silver hairspray used are so blatantly obvious that they seem to belong to a costume party more than a piece of theatre. For Amber, who is a big fan of Yoko Ono, the worst part was the much more passive portrayal she was given, more a shadow of John than an artist in her own right.
I found the writing getting repetitive and dull, with the same phrases literally being stated over and over again. The scenes between John and Yoko alone, which have the most potential to be adventurous, end up just reiterating that yes, they are in love, and yes, they’re probably soul mates. There is no real narrative, no character development and thus no real climax.
John/Yoko Bed Piece might have been a different show had it decided what kind of show it wanted to be. As I said, the ending musical sing-a-long was worth the wait and I did enjoy the show, but for much of it I felt alienated from the action. If you are looking for an immersive experience, then this might not be the show for you. If you’re just looking for a straight up play…well, then this still might not be the show for you. If you’re looking for something in between, then it’s perfect.
–John/Yoko Bed Piece is playing at the Toronto Centre for the Arts (5040 Yonge St.) until Jan 2.
-Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, with 2pm matinees on Dec. 19, 20, 23, and Jan. 2
-Tickets are $30.
-Tickets can be purchased online, by calling 416-872-1111 or in person at the Toronto Centre for the Arts box office.