Legendary dance-theatre company DV8 return with a verbatim piece that takes a very strange turn.
Rapidly approaching their thirtieth birthday, pioneering dance-theatre company DV8 have earned the right to do whatever the hell they want. And they, er, certainly do that with ‘John’, which has a structural twist so out-there that I started to vaguely wonder if I was high on something.
As played by the tough, wiry Hannes Langolf, the verbatim piece’s protagonist is a real man DV8 boss Lloyd Newson happened across while researching a completely different show.
It’s not hard to see why Newson decided to drop everything when he encountered John: the man’s life is both awful and extraordinary, an abusive childhood that spiralled out of control – dad jailed for rape, mum OD’d – leaving John a morbidly obese junkie jailed for arson.
The couldn’t-make-it-up extremity of John’s life could be fodder for exploitative grotesquery, but DV8 emphatically know what they’re doing. John/Langolf’s matter-of-fact delivery and total absence of self-pity nips melodrama in the bud. And the company’s astonishing physicality controls the tone: the stage is in constant, spinning motion and though Langolf’s balletic traversal of it is remarkable, his John is still a slave to the motion, a man not in control of his own life and destiny.
It’s engrossing, elegant stuff. But then about two-thirds in, without warning, ‘John’ suddenly becomes a drily amusing verbatim docudrama about a gay sauna. John cameos as an occasional customer, but he’s sidelined in favour of a freewheeling look at the rest of the sauna’s clientele. Certainly, the latter section could stand up as a discrete work, and it’s an undeniably interesting trick to pull… but call me Aunt Edna or whatever, I just didn’t get anything out of the late shift.
In some ways, the surprise discovery of John’s sexuality is the most interesting part of his story, and to suddenly toss his life aside in favour of the almost wantonly banal sauna section feels peculiarly dismissive.
The choreography keeps it all ticking over and there is a brief wrapping up of John’s story at the end, but it feels like a half-hearted rapprochement.