Darryl is not John, the drag queen he met in a pub and called a ‘she-bloke’. ‘Not yet’, as he repeatedly tells us. He is an unemployed, ‘plain’ guy in a perfectly comfortable relationship. However, the constant rejections and unending unemployment take their toll, and Darryl finds comfort in putting on lipstick and trying on his girlfriend’s dress. Rediscovering his childhood fascination with Dolly Parton, he describes a feeling of joy and infatuation.
Not John is a one-man show, written and directed by Rhys John Edwards and performed by Jake Cornford. It is part of this year’s RADA festival, performed at the John Gielgud Theatre. It is an honest attempt at tackling unemployment, cross-dressing and gender identity. Some of the images are simple and compelling, like when Darryl stands in a pool of light wearing a glittery dress and lipstick, holding a blonde wig but not putting it on. It toys with expectations and has some truly funny moments. But delivering a one-man show is always an incredibly difficult task; it takes stamina, precision and full commitment. Actors like Mikel Murfi comes to mind who portrayed an entire town in The Man in the Woman’s shoes seamlessly; due to the distinguished voices, body postures and gestures as an audience member you were always sure who was talking. Similarly, Cornford has to portray at least three other characters in addition to Darryl, including his girlfriend (who’s most prominent feature is, apparently, that she is chesty) and his nosy neighbour (probably Cornford’s best character). But the timing is often a hair off, and every time he has a conversation with himself the portrayals seem rushed. Cornford is likeable, and you gladly go on a journey with him, but he also seems to lack stamina and the energy to command a stage and everyone’s attention alone.
Apart from a table, two chairs and the odd prop here and there the stage is bare. Dolly Parton’s voice occasionally fills the space, injecting some energy into it, but even her presence seems underdeveloped. She soon becomes merely a plot device, and we never go beyond surface level in terms of why this particular artist touched Darryl’s heart. The piece also seems to have some awkward energy; most light changes are poorly timed and often unnecessary in such a short, 40-minute play; they slow down the piece rather than structure it.
Not John, while a play with honest intentions, some good jokes and a likeable protagonist, sadly is a production that does drag at some points, and ultimately doesn’t reveal anything ground-breaking about the themes it aims to tackle.
Not John played at the John Gielgud Theatre part of the RADA Festival on July 4.