★★★★★ | DV8: JOHN, The Lyttleton Theatre

Lloyd Newson’s DV8 Physical Theatre Company have been presenting innovative dance pieces for the best part of three decades and have won a plethora of awards. I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if their latest piece, John, now playing at the Lyttleton Theatre were to bring them a whole lot more.

The programme note tells us that the piece we are seeing is not what Newson had originally planned, a work about assisted suicide. The emphasis changed when a close friend of Newson’s died unexpectedly, and he decided he needed to do a work about love and life rather than death. They interviewed several men for the project, but when John came into their office, it became clear that the new work would predominantly follow John’s story, and so the present piece was born.

It starts as a monologue about John’s traumatic council estate childhood under the shadow of a violent, rapist father. Anna Fleischle’s ingenious, revolving set is put to brilliant use as characters move from one room to another. At first movement is fairly natural, but it becomes more stylised as the story evolves, though always as a response to speech. Rather than being set to music, in this case, the movement is a reflection of language and the words being spoken.

Later the set doubles for the gay sauna where much of the second part of the piece is played out, perfect in its depiction of the endless cruising from sauna to steam room to restrooms. Much of the choreography is unbelievably complex. In the group scenes, you feel that if one member of the company were to misplace a foot or a hand, then the whole delicate balance would be destroyed. That never happens of course, and one of the joys of this production is seeing the way bodies fuse together, meld into one and then just as easily drift apart, something of a Newson trademark.

Endlessly fascinating, but ultimately incredibly moving, it not only examines John’s reasons for having sex with men, but also unflinchingly examines why men may or may not take risks with their sexual health. Their stories are told without judgement, without prejudice.

I won’t give anything away, but the ending with John caught once more alone on the stage was incredibly moving. It runs for one hour and twenty minutes without an interval, but time had gone so fast, it was hard to believe it was actually the end.

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A true collaboration, one should also mention the excellent lighting of Richard Godin and the sound design of Gareth Fry. Every single one of the performers should be commended for their commitment, for their skill, and for the beauty of the movement. So too should Lloyd Newson, who has yet again come up with a starkly original and thought-provoking piece of theatre.

John is on now at the Lyttleton Theatre and almost half the tickets for each performance will be £15 as part of the Travelex Theatre Scheme

On 9 December John will be broadcast live to over 550 UK cinemas and many more worldwide as part of National Theatre Live. Details at www.ntlive.com

Runs until 13th January 2015

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