John and Jen

Tue 26th – Sat 30th April 2016


Clare Cavenagh

at 13:56 on 27th Apr 2016



John and Jen, an unusual, almost entirely sung chamber musical, was an unexpectedly stunning experience delivered by a magnificent cast of two, and a great musical ensemble who accompanied them through it. Although the lyrics occasionally strayed in the saccharine or sentimental, this show was emotional, charming and insightful.

John and Jen charts the growing, changing and conflict of two generations of the same family. Beginning with the childhood of the titular brother and sister, it continues on through deaths, births and children growing up, pinning the development of the family to historical events happening in America at the time. It's decades of history translated into song form, and run through in 90 minutes.

The musical itself has brilliant moments of insightfulness and can be touching, heartbreaking and comic. Brother and sister arguments, children leaving for university and overzealous baseball mothers are all brought to life in sometimes painfully relatable detail. In spite of this however, the script itself isn't really groundbreaking or unbelievably original, it feels a lot like a combination of highly recognisable archetypes and tropes. This meant that it occasionally strayed into the clichéd, but if you love the poignant, end-of-a-Disney-musical, happy cry, then John and Jen would be perfectly suited to you - it's full of them.

The cast of two did a phenomenal job of bringing this show to life, with magnificent singing, phenomenal acting, and a great deal of physical energy and versatility. Both Olivia Gaunt as Jen and James Daly as John kept a stranglehold on the audience's attention and emotions throughout. They grew convincingly from children into adults, signalling the passing of time through simple costume changes, and alterations in demeanour and voice which instantly showed what stage we were at, without being caricatures.

The band too did a great job, under musical director Oliver Pickard, delivering an excellent live performance from the stage of the Corpus Playroom, something I'd have thought quite difficult. The music went off without a hitch, and was highly enjoyable. Staging decisions on the part of director Ellie Coote were also impressive, economically fitting many distinct times and places onto the tiny stage. A particularly affecting example of this was a simple cardboard box cradle which over the course of the show becomes a coffin, and then a cradle once again, charting the passage of time and the evolution of family life throughout.

I started watching John and Jen somewhat sceptically, but was quickly and wholeheartedly won over. A confident and highly successful production with excellent and versatile performances from its two leads, and great music from the band, this unusual show comes highly reccomended.


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