JOHN at the National Theatre

JOHN is at its most human when it is at its most unnatural. Despite an incoherent plot, which undoubtedly numbed much of the impact of portraying John’s painful life, the movement in this show was powerful. Postures and gestures initially perceived as natural were repeated, exaggerated and decontextualised to offer a view of what lies behind Hannes Langolf’s matter-of-fact delivery of lines. These two elements worked well when Langolf’s head jittered as he hid in and around the set whilst he described John’s brief stint as a shoplifter.

Demonisation was a key effect of extrapolating movement from the regular world, as was seen again in John’s sentencing, where shuffling between the judge and the barrister brought connotations of a ‘shifty’ character in my opinion. Here, Lloyd Newson put DV8’s defining style to work more meaningfully than in past productions, including Enter Achilles.

Anna Fleischle’s rotating, labyrinthine set only served to enhance this. At one point, John was seen to cling onto exercise as a way of coping with the prison lifestyle: from behind the set, he bounced in and out of vision, using the panels to propel his visibly sinewy body.

In a protracted sequence exploring the nuances of a gay sauna that merited its own separate production, space gave meaning to the dance. The contrast between two men sexually gyrating against one another in an open space and a shrunken Langolf, languishing in the doorway of a mysterious room, with small physical shape, slickly highlighted the extreme promiscuity often seen in this environment.

This show explores identity as Grayson Perry’s portraits do; it extrapolates surface perceptions in order to reveal less visible aspects to John. Bar the soapbox tendencies of a final ten minutes that became an indictment of unprotected sex, JOHN is fluid and meaningful.


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