John is the unapologetic, visceral and devastating true tale of one man’s search for acceptance from within a life abandoned by society and family.
Not for the faint-hearted, the Lowry’s diverse audience witnessed rape, incest, drugs and murder within just the first few minutes.
The 75-minute show tells the story of a real man, John (Hannes Langolf), whose dysfunctional upbringing by a violent and abusive father leads him into drugs, violent crime and a life behind bars.
At the crux of the performance’s beauty is the ingenious set from celebrated designer Anna Fleische – a constantly revolving cutaway of a house, whose haunted four walls see John walk the audience through particularly harrowing moments in his life.
It tackled the tragic consequences of a childhood of abuse with almost a sense of inevitability: his shoplifting mother’s alcoholism, the death of his siblings from drugs, and perhaps most overwhelmingly, the absence of a figure throughout to love and forgive him.
Naturally, being a DV8 production, the choreography was impeccable, and the sheer strength of the narrative demanded your absolute attention.
An incredible scene depicting John and his brother’s fall into heroin addiction sees the dancers limbs become rubber; their faces vacant with an expression balanced precariously between ecstasy and torturous nightmare as they rebound mindlessly off each other.
But then things change. The story takes a dramatic and confusing twist, the performance leaving John’s expose of his life well and truly behind as it goes on to depict life in a gay sauna.
While undoubtedly offering up a brave and colourful examination of the reasons behind the existence of the gay community’s dark sexual underworld, it simply wasn’t as compelling as John’s tale.
As much as I hated to admit it, it just seemed to serve more as an opportunity to give the other actors a chance to talk rather than to progress the narrative.
Yet it is only when John finally becomes intertwined again with the plot, the actor’s voice being replaced – ingeniously – with the real voice of John as he speaks of his desire to find love, that the play reclaims its incredible power once again.
A performance of intense sadness, anger and regret, Langolf’s compelling portrayal of a shattered life is stunning. If you have an appreciation for theatre that scratches the itch of social unrest and tells the untold stories, John is not to be missed.
Images courtesy of Hugo Glendinning, Laurent Philippe and Stavros Petropoulos, with thanks