NT Live: An evening with JOHN


Image credit: National Theatre


Now that I live in London I’m never very far away from world class theatre and one of my favourite places to visit is the National Theatre.  Situated along the South Bank, ‘the National’ as it’s affectionately known to locals has played host to thousands of world renowned actors from Dame Helen Mirren to everyone’s favourite Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch.

But just because you might not live in the city doesn’t mean you have to miss out.  NT Live offers theatre lovers from around the world the chance to enjoy a slice of the action without having to venture beyond their local cinema.   Launched in 2009 NT Live has beamed more than 20 live broadcasts to over 1.5million cinema goers from as near as North Yorkshire to as far afield as Dubai.

Tonight sees NT Live’s latest offering hit our screens – a verbatim physical theatre piece named JOHN by DV8 Physical Theatre.  I was lucky enough to see a preview of the performance ahead of time so I can give you a little teaser ahead of tonight’s broadcast.

To my untrained eye there are, broadly speaking, two types of theatre: that which allows the audience to escape from their lives into a fantasy world and theatre which gives a person, group or idea a voice where they wouldn’t ordinarily have one.  JOHN definitely falls into the second category.

The piece came about after Director Lloyd Newson conducted a series of interviews with gay men on the subject of sex and love.  It was during these interviews that Newson came across John and the piece was born.  JOHN isn’t an easy watch – perhaps because the words used to convey his life on stage are entirely his own.  They are searingly honest and make no effort to hide the difficulties that plagued him from growing up in a household where his father abused his mother and sister, to his long struggle with heroin addiction where he recalls all those he has loved and lost to its draw.  It’s a raw piece that doesn’t rely on flowery language to tell its tale.  The actors are incredible, particular props to German-born Hannes Langolf who plays the title role of John.  Every ounce of his being tells John’s story and creates a connection with the audience that is hard to explain but unforgettable.

But it’s not all dark and it’s not just about John either.  The second half of the performance introduces other pivotal characters from sauna owners who talk frankly about what goes on behind closed doors to other sauna visitors – each one planning their visit with a number of outcomes in mind.  The dialogue – again the result of interviews – is candid, laugh-out-loud funny,  poignant.

Ultimately, no matter how alien John’s life may seem at times his story highlights that at our core we’re all just looking for love, whatever form it may take.  Since I saw the performance a couple of week’s ago I haven’t been able to get John’s story out of my head – so much so I’m going back for more tonight.  If you’ve not been to an NT Live screening have a check at their website where you can see if your local cinema is screening JOHN tonight.  It’s an amazing opportunity to witness incredible artistry from world class talent and because it’s totally live you see the performance at the same time as the theatre audience (for a fraction of the price!)

A word of warning: tonight’s screening of JOHN contains very adult themes, strong language and full frontal nudity.  It has not been recommended for audiences under the age of 18.

It’s a fantastic, bold performance that challenges preconceptions about a notoriously private world we might rarely get the chance to see.  I’d love to know what you think of the performance if you get the chance to see it.  Let me know where you are watching it from!xx

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