Review: John and Jen

★★★★☆

By

Though theatre has struggled over the past year, Tone Deaf Theatre Company’s production of ‘John and Jen’ proves that lockdown shows can capture and entertain as well as in-person performances. The musical follows Jen (played by Anna Pycock) throughout her life, focusing first on her relationship with her brother John until his death in the Vietnam War, and then with her son of the same name (both played by Archie Collins).

Despite the cast and prod team facing several challenges with the show, risking stagnancy with a two-person online musical, they deal with this with ease, and the show maintains its quality throughout the hour and a half run time. Director Ava Cohen impresses as she manages to create palpable relationships between the characters, both as siblings in the first act and as mother and son in the second. This is no easy feat, as the musical has been formatted as two self-recorded videos side by side, meaning the acting was performed without physically speaking to the other performer. Cohen still manages to direct the actors in a way to create a distinction not only between the two ‘Johns’ but to show time passing as the characters age. This is also a testament to both Pycock’s and Collins’ skill as performers, as they navigate the difficulties of an online format well.

Almost faultless

Pycock provides us with a depiction of Jen throughout her life, from age 6 to age 40. She showcases a great range of acting, and her singing, directed by and Chiara Fahy-Spada, is almost faultless throughout all 26 songs. Her performance peaks in ‘The Road Ends Here” where she shows an impressive vocal range and palpable regret after slapping her son. Collins also sings flawlessly and provides us with a credible depiction of two young boys, one eager to please his father, and the other to escape his overbearing mother. The two actors work well together and depict two family relationships that are imperfect, but real, and incredibly heartwarming. The pinnacle of the relationship between mother and son comes in the song “Talk Show”, where, in a slightly comedic moment, mother and son appear on a talk show to discuss their rocky relationship.

The show’s tech is also impressive: edited by Archie Collins, it is slick, with multiple camera angles. The audience almost forgets that the actors are not physically together: the editing is particularly effective in John’s death scene, creating a moment of real sadness, which is not easy for an online production to achieve.

The final song, ‘Every Goodbye is Hello’, finalises their parent-child relationship, and Jen’s acceptance of her brother’s death in the Vietnam War. If I was unconvinced of remote theatre before, this production has proved me wrong. ’s ‘John and Jen’ is an impressive attempt at online theatre, one that was successful in showing the changing relationships in Jen’s life, across the 1960s to the 1990s.

Image Credit: Tone Deaf Theatre Company

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