Paul (Thom Jordan) is a shy, unassuming young man with a story to tell; an injustice to put right. He stands on his soapbox and all but preaches to a congregation. Trust in God. Put your faith in God. God’s power is made perfect in your weakness. All messages that pour forth from Paul as he finds his Pentecostal faith and begins his journey to spread the word of the Lord. Son of a minister; brought up in a small(ish) Australian town, Paul journeys to the big city to ‘find himself.’ The core of this tale is not uncommon – overcoming setbacks to bring peace, love and religion to the world. Paul’s setback is his recurring cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia that he is first diagnosed with as a child. He is weak in body so that his spirit can remain strong to deliver the message. Thorn is a play about Paul’s opportunity to make his mark upon the world.
Like Paul, Thom Jordan also comes across as a humble, unintimidating and talented orator. Both writer and character have a natural ability to tell a story, to apply metre and dynamic in just the right places and keep the audience engaged throughout. Whilst it may get in the way of costume changes, the oxygen tank connected up to his nose serves only to enhance his stage presence. It requires no explanation and so Jordan doesn’t grace the audience with one until part way through the show. Memories of growing up, first days at school and class clown friends all serve to both entertain and emphasise the points that he naturally interweaves into the script. Religion is present right from the start but in an affable, light-hearted way; comparisons between sex and a ticking time bomb, or how the church paid for the family broadband that is used to search for pornography are effortlessly slipped into conversation. Religion at this point ingratiates its way into Paul’s childhood without seeming overbearing.
The second half of the play takes a typically more serious turn. Suddenly Paul is away from home, and away from the community that gives him purpose and feeling passionate about the Bible and the Lord. His cancer only serves to propel him forward. Speeches and sermons spill forth in the performance, overly done by shamelessly blowing his own trumpet and waxing lyrical. The illness is the USP, the hook that finally gives him the recognition he secretly desires. It all becomes too much and a bit too aspirational with climactic background music that shows the audience ‘The Way’. Jordan plays his part masterfully here, convincing and almost fanatical until the bubble bursts and the truth spills out. The whole story becomes a lie, a falsehood so that he can preach his truth. Once the bubble bursts, there is naught but shame, guilt and rage. The floodgates are open, the barriers broken down; Jordan storms off stage in a final outburst, leaving a stunned and silent audience trying to comprehend the last hour of their lives.
There is so much that is comfortable about Thorn – tugging at the heartstrings, lulling the listener into a false sense of security, a painkiller that numbs and comforts. But the ending forcefully removes that thorn, leaving the wound open, raw and in pain. Jordan’s writing is almost sadistic in its brilliance.
Thorn plays at Sweet Dukebox until 22 May 2016 as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. For more information, see Brighton Fringe website.
Photo: Monica Marion