Gentleman Jack at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
Gentleman Jack brings to life the unearthed, encoded diaries of late 18th-century Yorkshire-born pioneer Anne Lister. Salacious, true stories unveil her rebellious stance in times of sexual and male-dominated repression. The portrayal of her own wanton liberation alongside her endeavour to sexually empower those close to her is both as desperately heartbreaking as it is joyfully uplifting.
Artistic director Ross McGregor and award-winning theatre company Arrow & Traps deliver a robust adaptation of these diaries through a mere handful of characters. A strong Yorkshire dialect prevails and the intimate, simplistic set design intentionally directs our focus upon the acting.
Scenes glide gently into one another, with a transcribed backdrop giving audience members the dates of shifting timelines. Lucy Ioannou takes centre stage as a younger Anne, whilst Cornelia Baumann projects a wiser version of her in later years. Both performers complement each other and, as the story unfolds, appear in-sync as their timelines overlap on stage.
The piece opens upon a future relative, John Lister (Alex Stevens), and his friend Arthur (Tom Hartill) attempting to carefully decode the memoirs strewn with Greek and algebra symbols that John has found. They uncover an intellectual and provocative dossier of Anne’s affluent upbringing and numerous romantic female liaisons. We follow her story as both the actresses who play her deliver seductive performances, laden with confidence in some erotically charged scenes.
Girlfriends Isabella “Tib” Norcliffe (Laurel Marks) and Mariana Belcome (Beatrice Vincent) serve well in conveying the sexual ignorance and conformance to society of the time. Their child-like portrayals heighten the astonishing self-confidence and inner-strength Anne possessed. It is, however, the pivotal role of final lover Ann Walker (Hannah Victory), with whom she feels in part more equal to, that gives the protagonist the real fortitude to take on the man’s world. Opening her own coal pit, she challenges the macho status-quo and ultimately earns herself the derogatory name of “Gentleman Jack”, (along with her avant-garde preference for always wearing black!).
Essentially, the play is a 90-minute spotlight on buried homosexuality. A modern-day icon, Anne Lister is victorious, cleverly leaving the diaries for a more understanding future generation….
Photos: Davor Tovarlaza
Gentleman Jack is at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre from 15th January until 16th February 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.