Brighton Fringe 2009
Venue: Fletch @ St Andrews Church, (also on 16th May 6:00pm)
Festival: Brighton Fringe
Otherplace Productions take on a rock ‘n’ roll great in the form of Janis Joplin.
Steeped in rock and roll mythology Janis Joplin and her unmistakable voice are still firmly lodged in the public consciousness – if you’re in doubt think ‘Mercedes Benz’. An actress taking on this iconic figure faces a big challenge. Couple this with already being a recognisible face on the Brighton Fringe theatre scene and this challenge becomes even larger. Upstairs at the Three and Ten’s Nicola Haydn is definitely a brave performer!
So it is with great satisfaction I can report that Janis lives up to its tag as a FringeReview "Don’t Miss" show. Haydn inhabits his role to a tee. She lives, breathes and most importantly laughs as Janis. This is a performance rich in tone, subtlety and humor. As Joplin, Haydn moves about the simple bedroom set with authority, wildly gesturing, stroking her guitar, throwing herself onto the bed and draping a feather boas about her neck.
The structure of this one-woman show is traditional and it takes a familiar approach to biographical theatre. Janis directly addresses the audience recounting events from her life from her childhood to college, from her burgeoning music career to the tell tale signs of self-destruction. However, it is the warmth and humour with which Haydn invests this relatively simple story that means it never slips into the mundane or the conventional. She does a wonderful job of demonstrating the character’s contradictions, her self-delusions and her ravenous sexual appetite.
One of the few issues with the show is the set and lighting, which could have perhaps been used better to transport the audience to a different place and time. Yet conversely there is also a lot to be said for keeping things simple, as this show was definitely about acting. St Andrews Church isn’t a natural theatre space owing to the inability to create a blackout at 6pm, but thankfully Haydn as Janis filled the cavernous space with ease. The sight of Haydn, out of character, coming on stage just prior to the start of the show, readjusting the set, leaving, and then re-entering as Janis, heightened the sense of transformation and was a neat touch, deliberate or not!
What in my opinion will stay with you long after this performance ends is Joplin’s’ laugh, a dry cackle, something that must have taken hours of rehearsal and was well worth the effort. Yet this was more than an exercise in mimicry, for one hour the audience were treated to a fascinating character and more importantly some good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll.