The writer-director Murray Woodfield balances his play on the theme of cosmic coincidence, as the title suggests, and no similarity between killer and victim is too tenuous for him to alight on. Perhaps the most dazzling coincidence of all is that this supposedly serious case study has appeared at the height of reheated Beatle mania in a transparent attempt to stir some controversy. But the Fab Three need not glance up from their bank statements, for there is nothing here to endorse or excuse Chapman (though they may take umbrage at the band gathered on a platform above the stage, performing barbaric tortures on their greatest hits).
The play is structured as a flash-back, with the adult Chapman (Lucius Robinson) looking on blankly as formative experiences in his life are re-enacted before him: the beatings he witnessed his father giving his mother; his initial worship of the Beatles, and immersion in the hippy ideals of the Sixties, followed by a switch in attitude once Lennon had made his "bigger than Jesus" remark; the emergence of voices in his head, externalised as a pack of nitwits in jumpsuits; and his first encounter with The Catcher in the Rye, the book that played as much a part in Lennon's murder as the gun.
The writing picks up speed once Chapman reaches New York and Woodfield is forced to dramatise rather than analyse (he may be incapable of sustaining tension, but he's still a better playwright than psychiatrist). Robinson, who is grimly intense as the brooding killer, comes into his own here, particularly in the gently moving scene where he chats with two autograph- hunters and, for a fleeting moment, becomes just another starry-eyed fan. The role is a gift, but Robinson and Martin T Sherman, who makes a winning younger Chapman, still deliver a depth beyond the call of the script. Reuven Gershen has the right brassy confidence as Lennon, though he's stranded with lines that simply accentuate ironies in the story, and his chirpy commentary is intrusive, causing the drama to stutter and stall. (ffinlo Costain's frugal set may be the only thing in the production that was conceived without indulgence.)
I'm not convinced that Come Together needs its songs, either. They are arranged in a manner that Chris De Burgh would findtwee, and are shoehorned into the performance with a disregard for chronology or context, much like the pieces of Lennon's life that Woodfield tosses in willy-nilly. Sometimes the timing is painfully banal: when Chapman is ostracised by his friends after denouncing Lennon as a Communist, the band strikes up "Nowhere Man"; after Lennon reveals that he lost his mother, they drift into a version of "Mother" stripped of anguish. Sure enough, in keeping with the rest of this trite, prosaic work, the opportunities posed by "Happiness is a Warm Gun" prove too much to pass by.
'Come Together' is at the Man in the Moon, London SW3 (0171-351 2876) 8pm, to 30 DecReuse content