StageScan Pick: John

John at the National Theatre scored a 4.1-star average from the pros, with four awarding fives. Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out) described both “a good, excruciating, often quite funny drama about a relationship limping torturously to the finish line” and “something stranger and deeper”, declaring it “utterly remarkable,” on “the cusp of magical realism” yet retaining writer Annie Baker’s familiar “unhurried drollness”. Henry Hitchings (ES) described “another slow-burning portrait of disappointment… claustrophobic… full of sticky silences” and Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage) found it “brave, magnificent” detecting “behind the intense naturalism… audacious artistry… careful craft” and “a flourish that… emphasises its theatricality”. She reported “scenes of tension… moments of fierce humour” and words “both psychologically revealing and poetic”. Sam Marlowe (The Stage) found it “thrillingly spooky and intensely fascinating… painful, compassionate… intricate, complex, profound”.

Crompton praised James Macdonald’s “nuanced and careful” direction. Hitchings saw him savour the play’s “mysteries and eerie details”, Marlowe found his production “exquisite, disturbing – and startlingly funny” and Lukowski thought it “beautifully measured” with “an ocean of meaning behind each moment” yet “never… stylised or stilted”. He described “the front room of an oppressively chintzy B&B” which Crompton felt designer Chloe Lamford “makes… seem real”. Marlowe thought it “meticulously designed” with “every wall and surface … crammed with knickknacks and glassy-eyed dolls”.

Hitchings found the actors “courageous, taking us deep into the characters’ inner lives”. Crompton thought “all four… simply magnificent” and that Anneika Rose and Tom Mothersdale “perfectly capture the love-torn couple in all their shifting unease”. Most praise went to Marylouise Burke. Hitchings suggested her “delightfully quirky performance” as a “friendly and more than faintly witchy figure… anchors the play” and Crompton judged it “just perfect… managing to convey… infinite wisdom and constant confusion in a single sentence”. She thought June Watson, “as the blind seer Genevieve, wrings more meaning from the single word “cold” than anyone could reasonably expect” and Hitchings found Watson “magnetic”.

Crompton admitted “We don’t ever really know what we are watching” but thought while making “the domestic universal, asking existential questions about the nature of being” Baker also “tells a good spooky story and weaves a spell that is entirely her own”. Praising her “entirely original… voice and methods” she concluded: “Sometimes five stars doesn’t seem quite enough to capture the wonder of sitting in a theatre and being entirely engrossed… completely entranced” summing up a “rich and magical” work, “eerie and unsettling, strange within its ordinariness… something special”. Hitchings, while admitting “many will find it gruelling” admired Baker’s ability to “write hypnotically about loneliness, deceit, the nature of insight and the elusiveness of truth”. Marlowe found “it connects with a deep, elemental fear and wonderment” and is “wildly stimulating, the wealth of possibilities beneath its unhurried surface dizzying, and as rich and mysterious as life itself”.

Runs to 03 Mar 2018, with some tickets still available from the NT box office. And if you like a show that takes a unique and daring form and makes it work, don’t miss Girl From the North Country. We have tickets starting from £14.50.

Thanks for reading, and for continuing to support us into 2018. Our Top Ten boast a particularly impressive selection at the moment, so if you haven’t checked the site in a while, don’t miss out – head there now!