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4 starsReviewed by Richard Stamp
Arts Centre Studio
6 & 9 Jul 10pm to 11:15pm, 11-12 Jul 7:45pm to 9pm

Stickleback Theatre’s Jordan is a horrible, horrible play.  Not a bad play, you understand, but a relentlessly disturbing one – the kind of work you flinch from, which shows you things you simply didn’t want to know.  First performed back in 1992, it’s essentially a biography of real-life Morecambe woman Shirley Jones, who has the misfortune to fall for the wrong kind of boyfriend and ultimately loses even her treasured child.

There’s a restless physicality to Sian Weedon’s portrayal of Jones, evoking both the desperation of her circumstances and the spinning of her unsound mind.  Addressing her monologue to the child, the eponymous Jordan, Weedon cradles the imagined infant as tenderly as any flesh and blood – and then, when the mood demands it, throws herself across the stage in an outburst of anger or fear.  There are moments of beauty and some much-needed breaks in the pace, but there’s an undercurrent of vicious inevitability too.  Between them, Weedon and director Gordon Hamlin have crafted a performance that’s dark, cruelly believable, and breathlessly intense.

A little too intense, maybe.  It’s a 75-minute show, but I was pretty much wrung out by the hour mark, and for the last 15 minutes I was shamefully eager for the whole thing just to end.  I’m inclined to question the script on this one, since the biggest, most heart-wrenching moment – you’ll know it when you see it – comes some distance short of the finishing-line.  To my mind, nothing which followed could ever seem more than a postscript to that moment of desperate trauma.

In other ways, though, the writing is masterful.  The words feel natural in Weedon’s mouth, but there’s a sense of oratory to them too; a vivid imagery which at times transported me to a sordid flat in Portsmouth or even to Holloway jail.  There’s no doubt at all what Shirley Jones is eventually going to do – but there’s still a sickening, escalating tension, while we’re waiting for the axe to fall.  And the sudden shifts of mood are a credit to both actor and playwrights, above all at the crucial moment when a disordered-but-joyful relationship suddenly turns hideously sour.

In the end, this is a play which poses unanswerable questions: it’s clear that society ultimately failed Jones, but it’s far from obvious what anyone in authority could conceivably have done.  It all makes for an oddly-shaped piece of theatre, lacking a firm conclusion or a neatly-packed moral tied up in string.  Still, it’s highly thought-provoking – it’s certainly that – and Shirley Jones’ real-life story deserves to be told.  But my final words must go to the magnificent Sian Weedon… who transcends the script’s challenges in uncompromising style, to make this 20-year-old play her own.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Buxton 2013.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.