John, the subject of DV8’s latest project, is stylistically ground breaking with its combo of verbatim witness statements and dance as we watch John’s abusive life spiral on Anna Fleische’s revolving stage, to a haunting soundtrack from Gareth Fry at The National Theatre.
There’s no doubt that the descriptions of childhood abuse and the images DV8 create based on John’s true life experiences are harrowing. But though creator Lloyd Newson insists the piece is about men’s approach to masculinity and sexuality, it’s been getting into trouble for its scenes set in a gay sauna. ‘Disgraceful’ cries a ‘horrified’ Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail when John knowingly infects a man with aids, whilst contrarily, The Telegraph’s Sarah Crompton labels the scenes as ‘bravely confrontational’ though deciding they are ‘less engrossing’ than John’s actual story. But while the critics shoot the wounded there are also other voices [So So Gay Magazine and The Gay UK in particular] that find the play’s ability to discuss why John wants to have sex with men and why some men endanger their health with unsafe sex, moving and brave.
The question is, are we in a tizz over the wrong thing? Are the antics in the sauna a red herring for an unintentional insult- that in this day and age a theatre still needs to use a kitchen sink drama as a way of coming out of the closet? No. It might just be that the reasons why John goes to gay sauna are not explained enough. In an interview John Newson quotes that he doesn’t want to create a ‘gay ghetto’, unfortunately though there are some critics out there that may want to use the piece to do just that.
Psuedo brave or just brave? John runs at the National Theatre until 13th January.