In Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 masterpiece, Tom Cruise plays an abominable pick-up artist and we first see him introducing himself at one of his ‘Seduce and Destroy’ seminars with a Messianic backlit pose to the opening song from 2001: A Space Odyssey. In this revamped Christmas Top-Up Power Seminar, Will Adamsdale’s life coach character, Chris John Jackson, is possessed by a similarly unflinching belief in his power to help and even go “beyond help” for his audience. He introduces himself over the tannoy in a monologue that beseeches his audience to repeatedly proclaim his own name, “Jackson” out loud and thus summon the Messiah, himself.

Jackson’s ideas, unlike Cruises’s, do not align with any sort of misogyny, but advance from the simple premise that there are far more pointless than point-ful acts in the world and that we should take advantage of it, up to the point where we start feeling physically sick. What starts out as a hilarious parody of an over-confident, demagogic American motivational speaker becomes something far more intriguing as Adamsdale uses his ridiculous ideas (or “Jactions”) to explore existential angst. The fact that he makes us laugh out loud at the same time is down to his incredible performance and it was amazing to be in a room full of critics all of whom were unable to restrain their own laughter.

It is in his unwavering commitment to the portrayal of his character that Adamsdale most stupefies us. It renders the line between theatre and reality difficult to discern and his superb audience interactions demonstrate just how much “PTI” (“push through intensity”) Jackson has and how far he is willing to go to get an audience members to stare at walls, push towels through the ground with the sound of their voices or even discuss their job occupation as “Bopy (not Copy) Executives” (“Level 2”).

When Jackson fails to move his hands so fast that they exist in two places at the same time, it pains him physically and it is this constant, underlying pain and frustration that makes Jackson a fully formed character rather than just a good impression. For a seminar that is centred on completely pointless and random acts, the piece boasts a beautifully layered structure and tangents that initially seem like improvised non-sequiturs are all satisfyingly worked back in later on. The repeated ‘interruptions’ that Jackson is forced to make to his own seminar in order to fulfil his sponsor’s quota for mentions of Christmas or Christmas-related themes (“that’s two – chalk it up”) mirror the way that we in our own lives are forced to break away from our everyday internal questioning of life’s meaning and our purpose in order to get on with things like holidays, jobs and the unquestioning doing of life.

As Jackson closes his seminar, explicitly relating himself to Jesus, we feel as an audience, not the scorn and disgust that one feels towards Cruise in Magnolia but a warm and adorning respect for a simple, well-meaning man, who genuinely wants us to get everything in our lives “achieved” (“say it with me now: achieved!”) .

Jackson’s Way: The Christmas Top-Up Power Seminar is playing Battersea Arts Centre until 12 December. For more information and tickets, see Battersea Arts Centre website. Photo by Alex Brenner.