Son of Jim

Fri 3rd – Sat 25th August 2018

reviews

Andrew Jameson

at 10:06 on 11th Aug 2018

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'Son of Jim' is told by Davey Lias – the 'son of Jim [Green]' – and follows Lias after he finds a children's story that his dad wrote thirty years ago, but which was never published. Through the course of the play Lias discusses this previously unknown part of his father's life and explores the story itself. The play blends sound bites of Jim Green, projections, and Lias' dynamic control of the stage, to progress this exploration between father and son.

The play has a strange and almost dream-like tone at moments – one such moment being when a grown man in a gymnastics costume pretends to be a frog-fish creature that his dad wrote a story about thirty years ago. Nevertheless, the play still manages to remain cohesive and work these abstract and unusual scenes into a unified work.

The narration of his dad's story and the charming illustrations projected onto the wall creates a gentle atmosphere of childish wonder. The desk that dominates the small space seems to create a classroom atmosphere, maybe feeding into this childish suspension of reality that the play possesses at times.

There is a self-awareness to 'Son of Jim' which is cleverly used for lighthearted, and for more serious notes as well. At one point Lias questions the nature of this play he's written about his dad's old story and whether he should continue it, before leaving the room. He quickly returns joking that of course he has to finish it but this moment demonstrates the subtle blend of humour and a more melancholic tone. This is particularly felt during Lias' discussions with his dad's recordings, which involve him staring past an empty chair to a light in the middle distance, building a sense of absence and loss as both consider what Jim would do differently if he could change his past. But these recordings also have a charming authenticity and feed into the quirky humour of the piece.

Lias displays great energy and strength as he single-handedly weaves this story together. He shows a fun sense of humour, particularly when "replying" to his dad and his engaging style keeps the audience firmly in the moment.

While 'Son of Jim' may not fully explore what our parents were like before us – as it is supposedly designed to – and may sometimes drift into rather surreal moments, it remains a well-crafted and charming play.

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Siobhan Stack-Maddox

at 12:31 on 11th Aug 2018

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Guesswork's one-man show, 'Son of Jim' is both a telling of Davey Lias's father, Jim's unpublished children's story and a celebration of their father-son relationship. Combining moments of childlike exuberance and amateur gymnastics with melancholic reflection, the show was less twee and sentimental than I initially anticipated, providing a thought-provoking experience for the audience.

The tiny Fern Studio at Greenside created a very intimate atmosphere. Lias's energy filled the space, but he also drew back into musing and reflection at times, creating a sense of wistful spareness. Lias's engagement with the audience was to key to the warmth and honesty of the performance. He frequently made direct eye contact with individual audience members, handed over props and posed rhetorical questions.

When Lias asked an audience member "Is this real?", he stage-whispered "Say it is!". Throughout the show, Lias blended the real with the surreal, meta and self-aware. Jim himself was present on stage in the form of an empty chair and a multicoloured woollen jumper, with his disembodied voice answering Lias's questions. There was a blurring of past and present and of fiction and reality as Lias recounted the children's story written by his father. Initially reading the story, he himself gradually became the story's star, the amphibious creature, Strombo, suggesting that Strombo's story has certain parallels with his own.

Sound effects, music and lighting were used effectively throughout. Aquatic sounds played as Lias told Strombo's story and musical excerpts were used both incidentally and when cued by musical references in the script. I particularly enjoyed it when Lias sprang up from his desk upon reading the year "1986'' on a piece of paper and proceeded to bounce around the stage to an 80s drumbeat accompanied by flashing disco lights while recounting the events which marked the year. The play's nostalgic feel was further emphasised by the use of a projector to display the story's illustrations on the back wall of the minimal set.

The show's poignancy derives not just from the love Lias evidently feels for his father, but also the themes of artistic expression and performance which run through the piece. It is clear that art is intrinsically important to their relationship; he recalled the tears in Jim's eyes when he listened to a song that he had written him as a Christmas present. An exploration of his father's true passion for writing and amateur dramatics, and Lias's regret that this remained unfulfilled, became a moment of artistic anxiety and self-interrogation for Lias himself. Lias admitted that he frequently asks himself the question "Why am I doing this?", but, as this performance shows, he clearly follows Jim's advice to "keep loving theatre and writing".

The witty script, with its father-son banter and anecdotes, and the creative use of space and props work together to vividly evoke both Jim's presence and his work of fiction. This show was quirky, odd and heartwarming, with greater depths (both aquatic and thematic) than I might have at first expected.

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