The Humber Mouth - Hull Literature Festival 2000 - Thursday 9th November - Sunday 19th November 2000
Critical Eye

Sunday 19th November - 8.00pm Review Hull Truck Theatre
Critical Eye John Doe - A Story of the Blues
Humber Mouth Special Commission

'John Doe' is a stageshow tracing the story of the blues. Using live music, selective dramatization and text readings, 'John Doe' 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.

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Maggie Hannan is the festival's resident web site critic.
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