JOHN - Theatre ☆☆☆3

Showing from - Thursday, March 12, 2015 through till Friday, March 13, 2015

Grand Theatre - Blackpool

Sandra Mangan | Thursday, March 12, 2015

JOHN reviewed by Sandra Mangan on Thursday, March 12, 2015 for Downstage CentreA story that is both extraordinary and touching: DV8's JOHN (Photo by Kris Rozental)

My first experience of physical theatre was at the same venue last year, when I witnessed the phenomenon that is BLAM! and was completely blown away by it.


JOHN is cut from a very different cloth. In contrast to BLAM!, this work has words (the majority of them hard-hitting and affecting) and it also has  a storyline destined to capture your very soul.

JOHN is a verbatim dance-theatre work by Lloyd Newson, Artistic Director of DV8. In the course of his research for the piece, Newson interviewed more than 50 men, asking them frank questions about love and sex. One of those men was John and what emerged was a story that is both extraordinary and touching.  


Abusive Father

The John of the title is a man who has experienced little or no good fortune in his life. In fact, the phrase ‘dysfunctional family’ could have been created for him and his siblings, brought up by an abusive father who ends up in prison for raping their babysitter, and a mother who cracks under the strain and eventually dies of a drugs overdose. It’s no wonder that he eventually falls off the rails in dramatic fashion.
I’m unsure that such titillation added anything to the dramatic progression of the work as a whole
Years of crime, drug use and struggling to survive lead John on a search where his life converges with others in an unexpected place, unknown by most. The work authentically depicts real-life stories, where movement and spoken word combine to create an intense, moving and poignant theatrical experience.

This piece really worked when the narrative concentrated on John and his experiences of life. Sadly, it lost the thread somewhat with the middle section, which was set wholly in a gay sauna and featured a great deal of full frontal nudity. Yes, the bodies were fit, but I’m unsure that such titillation added anything to the dramatic progression of the work as a whole - and at times the sauna scenes seemed somewhat contrived and determinedly out to shock. The final section laid the message on thickly and skirted on the edges of preachiness.


Silent Partner

The piece runs for 75 minutes with no interval, and there is no let up for either actors or set. And let me say that the set was amazing! The slow-moving turntable never halted and was used to tremendous effect by the cast of eight men and a woman. It served as a silent partner to everything that happened. Some of the physicality was rather distracting, with scenes that were almost tableau-like in their execution - although with lots of sinuous posturing and acrobatics.


Drama is at its best when it forces the audience to engage their brains and think about what’s happening in front of them. JOHN certainly did that - but I’m afraid that this reviewer left the theatre more confused than enthused.

JOHN is at Blackpool Grand Theatre tonight (March 13th) and then continues on tour.

Tickets: Blackpool Grand website or call 01253 290 190


Production Information

Theatre: Grand Theatre

Showing Until: Friday, March 13, 2015

Production Company: DV8 Physical Theatre

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