Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

Review: DV8: John

My sister bought me tickets to see DV8 at the Playhouse as a thank you present. I have to confess I’m not usually a fan of physical theatre, but they’ve an international reputation for creating amazing work so I pushed my prejudices aside and sat in the stalls for 75 minutes of, well, I didn’t really know, I failed to read the blurb before getting to the theatre… 75 minutes of something.

I think sometimes that can be the best way of experiencing theatre. I remember the first time I saw Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris. My sister (again) had bought us tickets and I didn’t know what to expect – I walked in with as clean a slate as possible and was pleasantly surprised. It’s something theatre’s (Lyric) have tried, to ask the audience to trust and see if they’re surprised. I have to confess I find it appealing. Although I am relatively broad minded there are shows I tend to avoid because of either content or form. Contemporary dance for example makes me break out in a cold sweat, although on the one occasion I accidentally watched it I quite enjoyed the show – but then other times… But back to DV8…

The show is almost exceptional, or perhaps excellent with a caveat.

The play revolves around a central character, John, and charts his journey from a violent abusive upbringing to prison via crime and homelessness. It is an incredible, moving and touching story, with beautiful verbatim dialogue and spoken with eloquence, fragility and real tenderness. The set design beautifully compliments the story, the revolve used less as a way of technically showing off and more as an integral part of the storytelling. It is a simple, almost beautiful stage construction that morphs and moves hypnotically. Similarly the lighting and sound are tremendous, they are stylized but not over designed and add a gritty realism to the show with a pulsating energy.

The story took an interesting diversion, showing people coming to terms and discovering their sexuality in a gay sauna revealing a world not often spoken about in the media, screen or stage. The business sense of the sauna is defined and the challenges, but also that sense of community, of belonging in a place of intimate anonymity.

However the show didn’t quite work for me. There seemed to be an incredulity between the world of John and the world of the sauna – he just seemed to be there, to arrive – I didn’t get a sense of journey, or if it was there I missed it. A man discovering his sexuality needs to feel like a discovery surely? A conflicted realization? The storytellers voice of John also disappeared for a large section which was disappointing, for me it was his story, his journey, and although context is very important I wanted John to be telling me about what was happening, stepping through his reality as he had in the first half rather than less central characters. The physical theatre felt at points unnecessary and almost tacked on – everything should serve a purpose and there were moments when it was added when perhaps stillness would have been more powerful – those moments felt miscalculated and lost and occasionally jarred with the incredible tableau’s that showed moments of a troubled life passing. There were moments of stereotypical physical theatre – by which i mean the twisting and rhythmic movement that has been seen and done before – although interesting it didn’t build, add or develop.

Yet despite this I enjoyed the show. It did what good theatre does, opens your eyes, offers new perspective and touches you. Good theatre but not the greatest theatre and a story, John’s story, that I’d love to learn more of.

8/10 from me…




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