Sarah Wagener Newyorktheatrereview

I  have  been  a  fan  of  The  Beatles  since  forever  ago;;  I  have  my  mother  to  thank for the  introduction.  It  seems  that,  during  my  growing-­up  years,  I  developed  an emotional,  sometimes  spiritual,  connection  with  their  music,  a  bond  that  millions  of people  across  the  world  seem  to  feel.  Their  music  and  the  ways  they  expressed themselves  was  familiar,  personal,  powerful,  universal.  They  changed  the  lives— and continue  to  impact  generations  of  people  who  did  not  know  them  when  they were making  music—of  millions  of  people  worldwide.  

They  changed  the  life  of  one  young  woman  who  knew  the  music  of  four  of  them and the  soul  of  one  of  them,  from  the  first  day  she  met  him  in  Thy,  Denmark.  Her name was  Anne  Bak,  and  at  age  19,  her  life  was  forever  changed  when,  at  a  press conference  post-­Beatles,  John  Lennon  held  her  hand  and  said,  “I  want  to  hold  your hand.”  It’s  a  love  story,  but  it’s  not  a  romance.  And  not  with  the  perfect,  happy ending  one  might  expect.  

In  Lennon  in  Denmark,  the  talented  Danish  actress,  Vibeke  Hastrup,  tells  the  story of how  Lennon  came  to  Denmark,  how  they  came  to  be  neighbors  for  a  month,  and how  he  changed  her  life  for  better,  and  for  worse.  After  offering  housing  for  a month at  the  beginning  of  1970  to  John,  Yoko,  and  Julian  Lennon  (John’s  son  from a previous  marriage),  Anne  and  John  became  friends.  He  imparted  on  her  his message for  peace,  and  her  soul  became  “awakened”  upon  hearing  it.  

Lennon’s  message,  as  explained  by  Anne,  was  to  be  a  peacemaker.  Like  rings through  water,  Lennon  thought  that  by  being  good  to  yourself,  you’d  then  be  good to  others,  who  would  be  good  to  even  more  people,  and  like  rings  through  water, you’d  spread  peace  through  the  world.

Anne  spoke  to  us,  her  small  audience  on  Saturday  afternoon,  as  New  Yorkers  and Americans,  wanting  to  share  Lennon’s  message.  The  first  half  of  Lennon  in Denmark quickly  developed  a  strange,  yet  welcome,  religious  feel,  as  if  we  were gathered  to pay  worship  to  a  religious  figure,  not  to  hear  the  story  of  a  musician’s journey  to Thy  (one  is  reminded  here  of  Lennon’s  infamous  statement  that  The Beatles  had become  “more  popular  than  Jesus”).  Anne  even  passed  a  teacup,  one from  which  Lennon  drank  red  currant  juice  40  years  before,  around  the  audience, knowing  surely  that  we,  too,  would  feel  the  energy  of  Lennon  in  our  fingertips.  

Much  of  his  message,  Anne  proclaimed,  has  become  lost  on  so  much  of  the  world today.  She  cited  obsession  with  material  goods,  gas-­guzzling  cars,  a  financial  crisis, and  poisons  in  our  atmosphere  as  evidence  of  Americans  forgetting  Lennon’s message. And  maybe  we  have.  What  we  haven’t  lost—at  least  those  gathered  to share  in  this intimate  play—is  an  appreciation  for  The  Beatles  and  receptiveness  to their “teachings.”  And  so,  by  the  end  of  the  first  half  of  Lennon  in  Denmark,  the audience found  ourselves  singing  “Instant  Karma!  (We  All  Shine  On)”  by  Lennon with  Anne  as she  danced  about  onstage,  singing  and  waving  her  arms.  We  were  in a  state  of bliss, although  in  the  minds  of  the  more  reluctant  few  seemed  to  be thoughts  of,  “How did I get  to  this  place,  to  be  singing  right  now?  How  did  this happen?”  
Maybe  we  were  an  open  group,  familiar  with  traditions  of  non-­traditional  theatre  and eager  to  participate  in  a  way  different  than  how  the  “normal”  theatre  spectator participates.  Maybe  we  knew  that  famous  chorus,  “We  all  shine  on,  like  the  moon and  the  stars  and  the  sun”  by  heart.

More  likely,  still,  is  Vibeke  Hastrup’s  compelling  performance,  her  commitment  to  the circumstances  of  a  character  both  made  special  and  burdened  by  Lennon’s message and  the  responsibility  to  see  it  spread  throughout  the  world.  The  audience sat attentive  and  interested  in  Anne’s  story—for  it  is  ultimately  Anne’s  story,  not Lennon’s—due  to  Vibeke  Hastrup  mesmerizing,  multi-­faceted  performance.

The  second  half  of  Lennon  in  Denmark  reveals  a  darker  Anne.  Lennon’s  message, which  she  championed  instead  of  marrying,  having  children,  traveling  the  world,  has weighed  heavily  on  her.  Anne  says,  more  than  once,  that  she  wishes  she  hadn’t met John  Lennon,  speaking  to  a  Christ-­like  bust  of  Lennon’s  head  that  she  unveils  from underneath  a  psychedelic-­print  tablecloth  halfway  through  the  show.  It  is  painful  to watch  Anne  unravel  as  she  rocks  the  bust  of  Lennon  in  her  arms,  singing  “Beautiful Boy  (Darling  Boy).”  And  you  think,  “How  can  someone  be  destroyed  by  the  same message,  the  same  cause  about  which  she  feels  so  passionate?”  

There  is  no  universal  answer  to  a  question  like  that.  But,  in  the  case  of  Anne,  her need  to  escape  from  the  work  she  does  seems  to  stem  from  the  fact  that  she  does her  work,  Lennon’s  work,  all  alone.  In  matters  of  change,  it  seems  more  productive, and  ultimately  less  hurtful,  if  many  people  do  something,  rather  than  one  person doing  everything.  

Lennon  in  Denmark  ends  with  Anne  singing  the  last  line  of  The  Beatles’  “Help”,  her simple,  lovely  voice  filling  the  room.  In  that  final  moment,  Anne  seemingly  on  the road  to  combining  Lennon’s  message  with  a  real  life  of  her  own,  the  last  line,  “Help me”,  isn’t  desperate  or  down.  It’s  as  if  she’s  saying,  “Join  me”  in  living  Lennon’s message,  and  in  living  fully  for  oneself  and  others.  

I  think  I  just  might.  


By Kirsten Vibe Philippides,
New York Local Editor, The Danish Pioneer

On a muggy August Friday the energetic SATC company presented their world premiere of Lennon in Denmark at a small East Village Theater in NYC.
The play is based on an historic event. During Christmas 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were visiting Thy, a little town in the northern part of Denmark. They were visiting Ono’s daughter Kyoko who lived together with her father at a film school in an old rectory. The film school was one of the eighteen departments under the New Experimental College, also called The World University. The couple arrived in Thy unnoticed, and after a few days they rented a property from one of the locals near the World University (supposedly became the neighbor of Anne Bak, the main and only person of the play). The couple was able to move about freely and unnoticed to begin with. Then the press found them and besieged them to such an extent that police protection was necessary. They decided to hold a press conference at the World University. Rumors had it that the couple had plans to buy land and settle down here. However, they were more interested in talking about peace in the world as well in the family. They left Thy on January 25th, 1970.
The play is basically consisting of a monologue by a woman called Anne Bak, the neighbor, presented by Vibeke Hastrup, one of Denmark’s finest actresses who flew to NYC in order to perform in this play.
Anne Bak (probably a fictional character) had an encounter with Lennon which changed her forever. She now lives in a fantasy world celebrating John Lennon’s birthday, speaking to him as if he was still alive.
The stage is stark, a dark room with only a bust and a wall photo of John Lennon and a few pieces of living room furniture.
The part of Anne is movingly portrayed by Vibeke Hastrup who in a convincing manner brings alive this woman who essentially is a dreamer and whose world was touched and forever changed when John Lennon came to Denmark with his wife to spread his message about world peace.