The current Guildford Fringe Theatre Company production is John and Jen, a rarely-performed two-person, non-traditional musical. Divided into two acts, the first looks at the relationship of brother and sister, John and Jen, as they grow up; their moments of closeness, their teenage years and their dependence on each other. It culminates in a terrible row as John leaves to fight in the Vietnam War while Jen and her draft-dodger husband head off to Canada.
In the second act, we see Jen again but now older, a single mum, raising her son whom she has named John after his uncle who was killed in action. Jen struggles with emotional baggage and determines to try and support baby John better than she supported her brother; achieving the opposite by going overboard and creating tension between her and her son.
Now, I don’t know if that synopsis has reached out and grabbed you or not. But I will say that this production of John and Jen does grab you: it is utterly, completely engrossing. The interval was actually an unpleasant shock – I was in the microcosm of John and Jen and I wasn’t ready to leave it. The performers, Martin Neely and Jessica Sherman, were excellently matched and met the challenge of playing both children and adults head on. They successfully rose above some of the script’s clichés to give subtle, sensitive performances. Life isn’t black and white, we don’t always love or hate, we don’t necessarily agree or disagree. The songs and script accommodated some of the in-between shades which were then taken further by the two actors, with excellent direction from Nick Wyschna.
I’m not sure “musical” is the right term for this piece – I think “song cycle” is more accurate. John and Jen has no razzmatazz, no chorus, no “big numbers.” Rogers and Hammerstein it is not! It’s not a play either – because it’s a piece about emotions and relationships, song seems to be the right medium for it. On taking your seat (which you will book right now, here, because I say so!), the only thing to do is to open your mind and let yourself be absorbed by this unique and incredible production.
You can see John and Jen at the Star Inn on Quarry Street until 17 May.
Member since: 9th July 2012
Former public sector EA and PA, now a mother of three and a copywriter. I create blogs and features for the Best of Guildford but write for other people as well, producing web pages and press releases,...
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