Ears on a Beatle

Mon 15th – Sat 27th August 2016


Naoise Murphy

at 08:12 on 24th Aug 2016



For audiences nostalgic for the Sixties, ‘Ears on a Beatle’ is a must-see. For those who will not necessarily enjoy a play brimming with cultural and historical references, it is a fairly good, but not fantastic production. It explores some interesting ideas about idealism and the power of celebrity heroes. On stage however, it is often a bit dull.

Most of the fault for this lies with Mark St Germain’s script itself, which is formulaic and heavy on the exposition. The plot follows two F.B.I. agents investigating John Lennon during the Vietnam War and the peace movement. Because the entire play consists of two men talking to each other in a room, it is understandably lacking in action. Listening to people explain the plot to one another is not very interesting, and unfortunately, this is what much of this play felt like. They are bystanders in history, watching and recounting the interesting actions of others.

The performances are good, however; particularly that of Paul Broesmith as Howard, the more senior of the two agents. He establishes a compelling presence right from the start, staring down members of the audience as if in an interrogation. His cynicism and witty quips are a joy. Broesmith provides most of the comedy of the production with his deadpan delivery, which is a greatly appreciated contrast to the lengthy, serious discussions between the two characters.

Ben Adwick plays Daniel, the new recruit, with an effective sense of earnestness and naivety. The relationship between the two men is a well-worn one; the young protégé and the experienced professional, the idealist versus the system, etc. etc. Director Pete Meakin does not add anything particularly original to this formula, but the delivery is solid and engaging.

Costumes are good, riffing on the classic noir image of the detective and the patterns and styles of the Sixties. The set works well – two desks with phones, typewriters and other office equipment, and two coat stands for ease of costume changes. The use of voiceovers – mostly radio clips - is an efficient way of moving the story along through the years. This is where most of the cultural references appear, allowing us to root the piece in a very specific time frame.

‘Ears on a Beatle’ succeeds in an enjoyable production of a less than brilliant play. It is saved from mediocrity by two good performances and great comic timing.


Hannah Congdon

at 17:02 on 24th Aug 2016



John Lennon’s voice blares out the speakers as Pete Meakin’s adaptation of Mark St Germain’s ‘Ears on a Beatle’ opens. A voiceover recording reads out the latest devastation in the Vietnam War. Two men sit before us in beige overcoats, discussing the death of Bobby Kennedy in thick New York accents, and so we are placed firmly in the turbulent political and cultural climate of 1960s America.

The narrative follows FBI agents Howard – a no-nonsense, somewhat brutish cynic played by Paul Broesmith – and Daniel, his inept junior played by Ben Adwick, who is sent undercover to infiltrate the social circle of the "subject’’ John Lennon. The characters are undeniable archetypes of the era, but they are likeable and complement each other well, providing a central clash that runs throughout the play between youthful idealism and hard-headed realism.

It is an entertaining, quick-witted script, even if it does feel a little self-indulgent in its reminiscence for a bygone age. Howard’s stubborn disdain for the romanticism of the hippie movement is conveyed through snappy lines ("stick a flower in a gun barrel, fine, but it won’t stop the bullet’’), delivered expertly by Broesmith in characteristic deadpan. There are some brilliantly imagined moments in the script, the best of which serves as the pivotal point of the play: Howard goes undercover to Lennon’s house, under the guise of an electrician, expecting simply to tap some phones and leave. He finds himself lured in by the singer’s charm, and cannot resist staying for a beer, over which the two realise they share a feeling of inadequacy as parents.

This is Broesmith’s best piece of acting across the play. His sometimes monotonous style of speech is replaced with unbounded animation, as he excitedly relays the extraordinary encounter to his colleague. It is the moment the sceptic begins to realise the ideal from which an entire movement was born in the 60s. We see the start of a role reversal, with Daniel becoming increasingly disillusioned with the empty rhetoric of the left, at the very same time Howard starts to believe in it.

Costume changes expose the evolving attitudes of the two men, as Howard swaps his tight-fitted shirt for a casual polo-neck, and Daniel ditches his flared jeans and garish shirts for a sharp black suit. Rather less subtly, radio excerpts reveal the political developments across the decade – a useful plot device but one that means social changes like the pill, abortion and the civil rights movement are shoe-horned rather forcefully into the play.

All in all, this is a smart examination of the tensions of the era, the generational feuds over gender, race, and politics, but we never really hit territory that has not already been explored in multiple pieces of drama already.


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