Wednesday, 21 July 1999

Shadows and Light , John Bolton, 21 July 1999

Written and performed by John Bolton 
at Trades Hall until August 6, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

It is refreshing to be spoken to in the theatre. 

Usually we sit in darkness and listen and, if we are naughty, whisper the odd comment to our neighbour. John Bolton seems to look each one of us in the eye and have a personal chat about his life in art and love and Zen Buddhism.

Of course, he doesn't only talk. Bolton, who only recently closed his acting school in Williamstown, is a consummate mime and clown who trained in Paris in the 70's at L'Ecole Jacques Le Coq. Paris features prominently in Shadows and Light.

The art of storytelling is a subtle one and Bolton has a very individual and effective style that could be called "self narration": That is, he tells the story while he plays it physically. He even adds songs and costumes and some audience participation. the style is warm, charming and ever so engaging. You'll wish you had a cup of tea and bun by the fire.

The show is a series of anecdotes. It begin with his childhood in England which is told through shadow puppets. The drama school tales are hilarious because of the myriad British characters he plays, shifting from one to t'other without missing an accent.

Bolton peoples the stage with characters, all of who are believable an complete. Extraordinarily, they bleed into his own narration as he tells his own story.

He performed in a children's theatre troupe in Edinburgh, (hence the audience participation) busked through France, met, a mad drunken American, his wife-to-be and, finally, arrived at mime school in Paris. All these acting school types are more hilarious if you've worked in this environment with such pompous egomaniacs, but they are funny even without the personal experience.

The piece moves swiftly until the more poignant and intimate moments about his parents and death. There are moments toward the end, when there is a touch too much sentimentalism as he lights lamps to commemorate particular people. However, such honesty is lacking on the mainstage and we could do with more real sentiment rather than less.

The amazing thing is that Bolton manages to make Buddhism as funny as clowns. It is a very sweet show. I laughed out loud - very loud.

By Kate Herbert  

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