In 1964 Adrienne Kennedy was a black playwright fighting prejudice while living with her sons in New York and existing on alimony from her ex-husband and a Rockefeller writer’s grant.
She is now in her 91st year and about to make her Broadway debut. Mom, How Did You Meet The Beatles?, at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre, tells how she conceived the idea of turning John Lennon’s Book Of Nonsense into a play.
This is where we meet Rakie Ayola, as young Adrienne. For 75 minutes she gives a breathtaking one-woman performance, with a torrent of words, expressions and attitudes through a theme of sadness and comedy involving English theatre legends.
She is telling her story of meeting The Beatles to her son Adam, played by Jack Benjamin, who sits on stage strumming a guitar, backed by sporadic 1960s street scenes.
It’s an enthralling story, with sensitive direction by Diyan Zora, as the spirited Adrienne and Adam fly to London to talk with theatre directors about putting on her John Lennon play.
She works out she can afford it if she gets a Guggenheimer grant and, helped by writer Edward Albee, becomes the darling of Britain’s theatre world, meeting Kenneth Tynan, Victor Spinetti and her idol Laurence Olivier, and all show enthusiasm for her play.
She is meeting racial bias and is a woman in what seems a man’s theatrical world, but at first all goes well and she muses how Olivier “held my hand while we discussed how to stage my play”.
Invited to all the best events, she meets a lot of the people who made the 60s sparkle, and after being introduced to John Lennon eventually meets the other Beatles. On top of this she gets her Guggenheimer grant and starts writing the first pages of the play.
It is when Olivier and his fellow writers suggest maybe Lennon should write the play – which he refuses to do – Adrienne realises “I was being dumped”.
It’s a sad story of betrayal, as other writers were commissioned, but it didn’t quench her spirit and she went on to become an outstanding and crusading playwright, winning fame and honours.
Mom, How Did You Meet The Beatles? runs until July 8.