JOHN at the Lyttleton Theatre
DV8’s contemporary physical theatre style and its propensity for the bleaker issues faced by today’s everyman make it an important player in modern theatre. Having premiered in Austria and toured around Europe, their latest show JOHN arrives in London to great anticipation.
DV8’s work sprouts from discussion and the sharing of true stories, which is further explored in devising workshops that in turn become a physical theatre performance. The company’s immersive and personal process, and not just a disconnected final outcome, is important to their artistic policy.
This production tells the true story of just one man, John. If you think you’ve had a hard life, it’s nothing to what John has endured. Frank and explicit, his ongoing monologue traces abuse, addiction, the death of friends, depression, obesity and crime. As verbatim theatre it is a true account using the word-for-word testimony of the interviewee, John.
Anna Fleischle’s slick revolving stage, cut into sections by walls, displays scenes in montage as John describes the hell that was his childhood. Charming theatrical elements lend variety, such as dresses on suspended coat hangers to signify John’s past girlfriends. There is a scene in which John leans impossibly far this way and that, aided by a hidden support, then collapses like one of those wooden toys threaded with string. It is bizarre to behold.
It is the movement that is most mesmerising. Innovative and often strange, it seems born of genuine sentiment. A highlight of the production sees two sauna owners engage in intricate and fluid contact dancing, as they lift, balance against and weave in and out of one another. Another, more comical scene sees the host of the sauna show round a new guest with an effeminate dance consisting of twirls, skips and toe-pointing. The shoplifting scene sees caricatured up-to-no-good gestures: furtive looks over the shoulder and exaggerated creeping steps. The sheer stamina of the dancers, who soliloquise while moving, is impressive.
The pace is very similar and steady throughout, reminiscent of hearing a life story relayed to you by a stranger sat next to you on the bus. Don’t expect highs and lows, big reveals and conclusions. The overriding monologues and the rotating stage give a sense of inevitability, as John’s life spirals from one tragedy to the next.
It’s a bleak and gut-wrenching journey, but its ending does offer us a little spark of hope for John’s future.
JOHN is on at the Lyttelton Theatre inside the National Theatre until 13th January 2015, for further information or to book visit here.
The performance of JOHN on 9th December 2014 will be broadcast live to over 550 UK cinemas and many more worldwide as part of National Theatre Live.