Updated: Oct 27, 2019
Teeming with the potentially supernatural and a profusion of quaint curios, this latest production by the Outhouse Theatre Company is an intriguing exploration of the complexities of the human condition in the eerie, spooky and mystery-filled setting of a Pennsylvanian bed and breakfast.
Staged in the Reginald Theatre at the Seymour Centre, John is a unique venture into a genre all its own. We meet Jenny and Elias, whose disintegrating relationship propels the majority of the narrative throughout the 3 hour production but we quickly realise there is more going on here than meets the eye. The couple are staying at a decadently tchotchke adorned bed and breakfast nearby the 19th century American Civil War site in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The place is swirling in elements of the paranormal, creepy dolls, an autonomous piano and is run by the equally enigmatic Mertis.
As the elegant ruby-red drapes are opened, we are immediately in awe of the incredible set. The intricacy and detail that have clearly been a result of prodigious effort and skill are probably the most commendable aspects of the entire production. We sink into complete immersion as the amalgamation of vintage nostalgia permeates our senses. Set designer Jeremy Allen and lighting designer Veronique Benett together are a force to be reckoned with!
Shuang Hu brings a touching vulnerability to her performance as Jenny whilst James Bell tugs on both our contempt and sympathies in a superbly honest and nuanced performance as the hurting Elias. Both actors are particularly strong when they discuss the past cracks and betrayals in their relationship and we feel the all too familiar sense of mistrust and pain.
Belinda Giblin and Maggie Blinco are incomparable as the landlady Mertis and her pugnacious friend Genevieve. The individually experienced duo are best when their contrasting personalities create a dynamic relationship that does justice to the humour of the text. There were moments, particularly when the narrative progression became sluggish, that the electric energy of the duo kept us engaged.
John serves up a combination of supernatural red herrings and touching sentimentality that keeps the show engaging for the hefty duration however this combination also instils a feeling of confusion and we are left wondering what this is really about. Some of the well-written humour felt lost among the pause-ridden dialogue and could have resonated better with faster pacing. At times, the production seemed to be a spooky thriller, at other times an exploration of toxicity within a relationship. Unfortunately, there seemed to be an element of this blend that didn’t fit quite just right.
My Reaction and Recommendation
After 3 long hours (albeit with well-timed intervals), my thoughts were buzzing with myriad of unanswered questions. I tried to piece together all the little things I took to be clues and solve the supreme narrative puzzle. Alas, my guesses were each as intriguing as the next but nothing was confirmed. In the end, my overwhelming feeling was one of sympathy for both Jenny and Elias who both (like most of humanity) just want a relationship based on love, intimacy and trust… it’s just not working with each other.
Venue Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre (Chippendale), 21 September to 12 October 2019
Director Craig Baldwin
Playwright Annie Baker
Cover Image by Clare Hawley
DISCLAIMER: This and all other reviews posted by A Millennial with an Opinion/JTA Official/Jessie Trompp are the honest personal opinions of a theatre-goer and are not reflective in any way of the opinions of others who have seen the production.