Review: Jack at the Etcetera Theatre, London

Friday 3rd August 2018 at the Etcetera Theatre, Camden.


Jack is a meaningful and affectionate one man show written by and starring Stephen Wale, who tells the story of his Uncle Jack. Wale takes on the role of Jack for us as well as performing repeated conversations Jack had with various people in his journey from eager and determined underage army lad to a fragile Shell Shock victim abandoned to institutionalisation. Wale is great with voices, has the power to create tension and feeling through musicality of voice and writes very evocatively. The only problem is with the staging.

The issue here is not the script – Wale showcases some excellent, moving writing and does justice to a sad story which is not unique but relatively unique in its honest portrayal through theatre. Most Shell Shock/ PTSD stories are very dramatic and loud, full of unstable rage and primal wailing, but this depiction is more gentle, more artful and presumably more truthful for men of the stiff upper lip generation who couldn’t give in to the condition because they were too indoctrinated in the laws of putting a brave face on things – silence and stammering is just as powerful as alarming agonised cries in Wale’s work. He also depicts some terrifying situations very well, but early on and at intervals, sound is an issue, and as Wale moderates his voice into whispers or subdued tones, some of the script is frustratingly lost.

The issue for me here is the complete lack of direction and movement – Wale begins seated before moving to a wide spot lit area where he plants his feet and almost never moves for the duration. His arm gestures add emphasis, and his delivery of the various reported speech and variety of voices are very engaging – as is the story itself, but with no movement, it quickly lacks pace and engagement because it’s an hour of sitting in dim light, listening to one story in one voice – kind of like finding yourself being regaled with tales of family history from Uncle Joe at the family lunch – it’s not that it’s not interesting in the beginning, and it’s not that the teller doesn’t do a good job of injecting plenty of character into the tales, it’s just a struggle to stay engaged and in the moment when sitting in such a static environment which offers no real visual variety. I’m drawn to stories about soldiers and their experiences – I’m pulled in by stories doing justice to rare stories, and I think this is a very worthy piece which could be incredibly gripping and powerful theatre with the help of a director with vision.

Jack plays at the Etcetera Theatre until August 5th 2018 and you can find tickets here.

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