John Doe Stageshow Reviews

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Review by Maggie Hannon of Critical Eye

'John Doe is a stageshow tracing the story of the blues. Using live music, selective dramatization and text readings, 'John Doe1 reaches its climax with a Blues concert. Devised by King Rollo, the show was specially commissioned for the Humber Mouth and was premiered at Hull Truck as the festival finale.

Playing to a packed theatre, the performance was one of irrepressible energy and earned a standing ovation and encore from a highly appreciative audience. The performers made a slightly cautious start, seeming to lack confidence in the opening scenes, but this had been overcome by the beginning of the second half. Using the music of Muddy Waters, Blind Blake, Louis Jordon and many others, the musicians gave an outstanding performance, particularly Ian Siegal from London, and Rik Lovelock from Hull. I don't know how old Lovelock is, but I doubt he is more than 14 or 15 years old. By any standards he gave a fine performance on drums, but given his youth, one had the feeling that one was witnessing the start of a very successful career.

Siegal, on guitar and vocals, had great charisma on stage and was largely responsible for pulling the show together after the opening scenes and for the end concert.

The text readings were taken from a variety of African-American sources, starting with Olaudah Equiano's Journals and taking in James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and Gwendoline Brooks among others. Mixing poetry and prose, reader Anthony Jackson performed most of the pieces. While his readings were atmospheric, problems with the sound made him occasionally difficult to hear, which was a great shame. The texts used were moving and informative, and crucial to both the narrative cohesion of the show and its context. I would have liked to seen the text integrated with more confidence, and perhaps more focus.

I had the impression that the show was ready to move to a larger performance space - the size of the band, the readers and dancers seemed sometimes to be rather cramped.

It is not difficult to imagine John Doe developing into something much bigger. Already spectacular, the show would only need refining slightly to make it a truly stunning performance. As a Special Commission, it shows just how much is possible, and it would be no surprise if John Doe went on to other venues in future.

Review by Pete Brown, Blueprint Magazine

John Doe - A Story Of The Blues
Spring Street Theatre, Hull 19/11/OO

As part of this year's Hull Literature Festival, this sell-out eventwas the first performance of a stage show tracing the story of the Blues "from its roots in African and American slavery to the present day through musical and cultural history".

The original request to develop the show was made to King Rollo, who directed the performance, and Steve Swales of Indie-pendant Blues. With the help of others, they put together a stage show mixing poetry, prose and music and featuring well known performers such as Rollo himself, Freddy James and Ian Siegal and a cast of 17.

The use of African-American literature was interspersed with musical performances and provided an excellent complement to them. It included work from early black writers detailing the experience of slavery such as William Wells Brown and Frederick Douglas, through the writings of the Harlem Renaissance of Langston Hughes to the jazzy influenced 60s work of Gwendolyn Brooks. The material was well chosen and provided snappy and effective snapshots of the history of black life and experience in America.
The music was mainly standards, from Delta blues and classic blues, very well performed by Anne Palfreyma, through to a hefty dose of Chicago in the final band segment. What distinguished the music from the usual re-treads we hear so much of was the real enjoyment and passion the musicians clearly had for the material. Freddy James has a lovely sense of pace in his slower material, leaving spaces where others would overplay and achieving real dignity and depth. On the up-tempo numbers Ian Siegal performed with real charisma and proved what an excellent guitarist he can be - he was clearly getting off on the whole performance.
The percussionists were under used and the influence of tension with gospel music was not covered. However, it would be churlish to be too critical of a first performance of an event which I really enjoyed both in terms of the music and the readings. It managed to be both thought provoking and great fun at the same time.
It is not possible to acknowledge all the contributors of this fine show - did I mention the dancers from, the local stage school? - which would go down really well at festivals. The event got a foot stamping reception from the full house in Hull who demanded an impromptu encore! - Pete Brown


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