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.