Friday, 7 November 2014

REVIEW - John at the National Theatre


LOVER. Criminal. Father. Arsonist. Graduate. Charmer. Survivor. John is all of these things and more. And he is the subject of a powerful new verbatim performance piece by DV8 Physical Theatre now on at the National Theatre.
John's harrowing and heartbreaking story is told through the performers who dance and speak his words which are based on a series of interviews which were conducted by the company's artistic director Lloyd Newson.
It is an extraordinary story - we see him born into a completely dysfunctional family with an abusive and violent father who rapes the babysitter and physically abuses John's brother and alcoholic mother.
John and his brothers end up in prison, on drugs and in the case of his brothers, dead.
In his search for love and stability John drifts through life, shoplifting, having two children by two different women as well as plenty of girlfriends and liaisons in between, takes drugs, is done for ABH and his weight rockets to 25 stone.
However, after years of crime, drug use and struggling to survive, John’s desire for a new life leads him to a place unknown by most - a gay sauna.
It is here we see more stories unfold - from those who use the facilities and as such John takes a bit more of a back seat in the story.
Unfortunately there seemed to be a link missing between John's story and the sauna which made it a bit unclear initially why and how he had arrived there.
However, that is a minor niggle because in all other respects it was an incredible piece of physical theatre.
It is staged on a fantastic but minimalist revolving stage to a soundtrack which plays throughout. The choreography is more movement than dance - sometimes the dancers move about on their hands, sometimes they look as though they are made of rubber folding and unfolding themselves in all directions, sometimes they are rigid, sometimes balletic in their movements.
John is ultimately about one man’s search for love from the devastating home from which he has come. He is also a real person - we know this because right at the end we hear his voice rather than that of performer Hannes Langolf.
It is a compelling production, brutally honest in its haunting and harrowing portrayal of a man where tragedy, abuse and pain is part and parcel of life, but that is beautifully staged and where the story is expressed as much through the words of the performers as through their dance.

John is on at the Lyttelton stage of the National Theatre until January 13, 2015. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.  

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