Mom, How did you meet the Beatles? | Minerva Theatre, Chichester | Review

Mom, How did you meet the Beatles?

Minerva Theatre Chichester

June 2023

Written by Adrienne Kennedy and Adam P. Kennedy
Directed by Diyan Zora

Wow! What a play! What a performance!

Adrienne Kennedy, renowned New Yorker playwright, is now 91 years old and remains one of the most respected masters of the spoken word, and one of the most fervent exponents of Black racism in the western world.

Now, this one-act autobiographical play, presented in the form of an interview from her son Adam, is not about racism at all – although there is an unspoken element involved, clearly. Rather it is Adrienne’s retelling of the story of an extraordinary period of her life in the heady days of the pop cultural revolution in the 1960s, and the profound effect it had upon this talented playwright.

Hitherto virtually unknown outside the US, Adrienne was already an established, highly intellectual Columbus educated writer, having fought through the denigration and racist climate rife in her Cleveland, Ohio hinterland. One college professor had accused her of plagiarism, refusing to believe a young black girl could produce such high quality writing for her essay on George Bernard Shaw.

In her early ‘30s, separated from her husband, Adrienne’s son Adam had become infatuated with John Lennon’s ‘In His Own Write’, a book of fanciful verse, which Adrienne used to read to him constantly, eventually writing an adaptation based on the book. A sudden decision to up sticks and go to London, more or less on a whim, to try and get her play staged, found Adam and his mom in the heart of the capital, with just a handful of names ‘to look up’, given to her by contemporaries in New York.

Rakie Ayola (‘Strange Fruit’, ‘The Winter’s Tale’) delivered her shimmering, towering talent with huge effect on the intimacy of the Minerva Theatre stage, truly mesmerising the entire audience for every second of her 75 minute performance. Adrienne’s son Adam, played by Jack Benjamin (‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, ‘Mr Selfridge’) is an actor, writer and musician, and his part here was to ‘interview’ Adrienne – the real Adam, as he grew up had constantly asked questions about this period of both their lives. Here, he gently interjected half a dozen times, allowing his mother to relive her story, with scarcely any interruption, softly playing acoustic guitar now and then.

What followed was ultimately a poignant tale, highlighting the casual dismissal of the bourgeoisie and the callous manipulation of those not belonging within their stratosphere. And yet …… Rakie Ayola relived, on the author’s behalf, every minute of her experiences, not with resentment or self-pity, but with a shining wonderment, a kind of wide-eyed innocence. The ‘stars’ she met – including all four Beatles – she described with humility mixed with pure pleasure: ‘they were very NICE to me!’ There were some lovely funny lines, the vast majority when recalling meeting those dwelling in the higher echelons of the arts world ….. ‘Laurence Olivier! Laurence OLIVIER !! He ran the National Theatre. That’s like running The World!!’

Eventually lies and betrayals followed, but Ms Ayola dealt with these – as Adrienne herself did – with dignity and acceptance, never losing her faith in her work, and remarkably, never allowing anything to taint her memories of her amazing experiences over those momentous months in London, at the height of the ’Swinging Sixties’.

Rakie Ayola’s performance of this gift of Adrienne Kennedy’s brave story is truly breathtaking. Jack Benjamin’s small, but perfectly formed, contribution perfectly complements the piece, and I cannot recommend this production highly enough. A stunning play, brilliantly performed, its arguably ‘lightweight’ title rather belying the sober message it conveys.

A rapturous standing ovation, overwhelmingly deserved.


75 minutes continuous running time, followed by a 20 minute interval, then a short digital film presented by Adam Kennedy. Well worth remaining in your seat to watch.

Touring 16 June – 8 July 2023

Reviewer: Gill Ranson

Photo: The Other Richard