A virgin to verbatim theatre

The therapeutic process of reading and deleting emails has become my great Christmas hobby. Companies pestering me to buy their discounted products and theatres tempting me with their end of the year productions…that’s when I found JOHN.

As a National Theatre Entry Pass member, the ticket price and the National Theatre’s seal of approval was attractive, but the moody front man captured my curious butterfly heart. Without reading or thinking too deeply, I booked a seat within my little sanctuary.

Little did I know this production would be exploring the depths of homosexuality – not a production I particularly wanted to brag about to family and friends……

Exploring sexuality within theatre is not really my area. Being a Christian, I suppose homosexuality is a bit of a sore subject and something that shouldn’t be encouraged, but I guess you can call me a different “breed” of Christian. I support gay marriage. I don’t believe you can “cure” gay people- they don’t need curing in the first place! I have gay friends – one of my closest friends is gay. I have always respected and admired the bravery of those who stood up to daily prejudices. Recently, I saw The Imitation Game, which was certainly a wake up call on how people can judge an individual just on their sexuality regardless of their achievements. Sadly, we still live in a world where being gay is still somewhat frowned upon, but I do believe acceptance is growing.

Sitting on the train, I thought about my expectations of JOHN – Smut. Artistic porn. Nudity. Scandal. Experimental theatre. I suddenly began to feel uncomfortable because you can’t unseen the seen. It wasn’t the homosexuality that bothered me, it was my first experience of watching verbatim/dance theatre. A script based on interviews and expressed through movement, would the production be boring or too “out there”? Detaching myself from my worries, I went into the National Theatre with an open mind.

JOHN was simply mind bending, beautiful and graceful. Moving from one scene to the next through the simplicity of an open and close of the door, the beloved revolving stage worked perfectly in time with the choreography. John told his story of poverty, crime, abuse, addiction as if it was normal like a fairytale. The tragic childhood memories made you understand his route within a poverty and drug filled trap. Moments of rape, but then periods of dark humour made you toss between emotions.

The gay sauna scenes were actually quite impressive. Yes, there was nudity (actors certainly had balls), but the sex was expressed through words and dance. A metaphor of sexual pleasure shown through the simple drama of stretching and fighting over a T-shirt made me applaud their talents. A moment of pure comedy was the discussion of poo found on the ceiling, floor, stairs and just about everywhere else within the gay sauna.

JOHN was a perfect example on how to transform an anecdote into a visual stage piece. The entwining of masculinity and sexuality became a gripping power play between characters and the revolving set glided through John’s life door to door. John became the salesman, selling you his life story and didn’t care on your opinion, but appreciated your time.

My embarrassment over witnessing a production with a homosexual root has vanished and been replaced with a sense of pride and guilt to explore our freedom of expression within theatre. JOHN has taught me to be brave and explore the different types of theatre. Productions, which challenge norms and voice the neglected, troubled and vulnerable, should be applauded and recognised. JOHN will certainly be a production that I would be willing to brag about.

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