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 The Theatreguide.London Review

John
Lyttelton Theatre Autumn-Winter 2014

DV8 Physical Theatre is a company built on the not-always-compatible structural devices of verbatim theatre and dance. Neither is particularly effective in this current work, playing a short season at the National Theatre. 

While researching for another project, director Lloyd Newson and his interview team encountered John, whose story so impressed them that Newson decided to build an entire show around this one man. 

It is not immediately clear why. Although John's life, as presented here, is filled with dark and harrowing incident, it is not unique, nor does much of a winning or intriguing personality come across. 

A disturbed childhood with an abusive father and copeless mother, a string of women loved and abandoned along with a couple of children he hasn't seen since, and an adulthood of alternating homelessness, heroin addiction and prison lead John to wander almost randomly into a gay sauna, which fascinates him in ways he doesn't quite understand until he finally decides/acknowledges that he is homosexual. 

All this is spoken by actor-dancer Hannes Langolf using, we are assured, John's own words, and none of it is especially interesting. 

Indeed, director-deviser Newson seems to admit this when he himself appears to lose interest in his hero for what amounts to a long digression in the sauna sequence. 

John fades into the background and the play's attention turns to others, listening to the voices of the sauna owners matter-of-factly explaining the economics and logistics of their operation and of some customers on the thrill of the hunt and why they do or do not practice safe sex. 

Each of them, for various reasons, is more interesting than John, and by the time the play picks John out of the crowd again, we've all but forgotten him and can't really re-establish any connection. 

All this narrative is accompanied by Lloyd Newson's choreography which, as in other DV8 works, is largely a matter of standing still or walking, with occasional lapses into Cleese-like silly walks and even less frequent writhing or intertwining of bodies. 

The opening sequence of John is a string of tableaux as the constantly rotating set reveals people posed motionless, and the only figures who ever really relate to each other in movement are the sauna owners, whose intertwining bodies seem to have little to do with the mundane things they're talking about. 

The sole time Newson's choreography really fits the subject and evokes a moment is in the sauna as a half-dozen men draped in towels repeatedly walk back and forth and in and out of doors, capturing the nervous energy of cruising for anonymous sex. 

There is not much of interest in the narrative of John. There's not much to draw you to the character. And there's not much in the way of choreography to look at.

Gerald Berkowitz


Review -  John - DV8 at National Theatre 2014
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