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John & Jen- musical review

With music by Andrew Lippa, and lyrics by Tom Greenwald (also based on their own book), the updated version of their two-hander ‘John & Jen’, directed by Guy Retallack, reflects upon the dynamics of family relationships and all that they entail. Starring the award-winning Rachel Tucker as Jen, alongside the fantastic Lewis Cornay as John, it begins by transporting us back to their childhood, depicting John as a baby, in the arms of his older sister. With seven years between them, and being amid a turbulent household, it becomes immediately evident that Jen strives to protect her little brother from everything bad that comes his way, even making a 'forever pact' to do so.

The first act truly encapsulates the essence of being siblings: both the unconditional love and hatred for each other. 'Think Big' becomes a source of inspiration for the pair, despite starting as part of a game they were playing together, being one of several points in the show that cleverly foreshadow later events. This is followed by 'Dear God' and 'Trouble With Men'- both hilarious pieces that show the more frequent side of being siblings, in which you do everything you possibly can to annoy one another. Moving swiftly through their lives, the recurrent reminders of the character's age are essential to keeping track of the story, as we see their relationship change, both beginning to grow apart and let go of what once made them inseparable. Jen goes off to college, and upon reuniting with John, they recount their experiences in 'Out of my Sight', before an emotional confrontation that ends in devastation.

Still facing the subsequent tragedy of losing her brother at war years later, act two focuses on Jen, now alone in Canada, caring for her baby boy, John, named after the brother she failed to keep safe. Rachel appears more comfortable in the mothering role than while trying to portray a teenager, and Lewis too really comes into his own more as the show goes on. While the diverse score is interwoven seamlessly for the most part, it felt as if a little traction was lost during the 'Talk Show' element, albeit this brought the performance's relevance to modern day. In addition, the timeline seemed a little jagged, as if it didn't quite fit with the story in places, particularly when John was recalling newspaper headlines. However, Rachel displays her incredible talent through the passion and power in 'The Road Ends Here', completely stunning the audience with her impeccable vocals. The show concludes with the heartfelt ballad 'Goodbye Hello'. The four-piece band were excellent, playing the orchestrations by Jason Robert Brown & Andrew Lippa beautifully.

Situated in the loft of their family home, the set (designed by Natalie Johnson) is created using a wood chip wall adored with writing, a boy band poster, and shelves full of memories. This is kept largely the same throughout, with the extensive use of props and basic costume changes to assist with the storytelling. Due to the nature of the intimate theatre space, the sightline may not have always been considered, as some parts performed near the floor were missed by most.

Although not thoroughly engaging or extravagant, 'John & Jen' is still able to provide an enjoyable piece overall. Rachel Tucker is a marvel, and Lewis Cornay compliments this perfectly.


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