REVIEW: I, Will Jones (The Basement)

Review by Tim George

[Me, Myself and I (Will Jones)]

If you are familiar with the Auckland theatre scene (drink!), the Basement Theatre is the most exciting place to check out. Sometimes Q will get some braingasm of absurdity like Frank the Mind-Reading Hot Dog on one of its smaller stages, but generally if you want something more lo-fi and harder to categorise, The Basement is the place to go.

Eamon Marra’s Respite was one of the highlights of 2015 for me. Small, autobiographical, unflinching and yet filled with gentle wit, it was one of the most profound and moving experiences I’ve had at The Basement. It was not the most out-there show, but it was so small and specific, a larger venue would work against it.

Now, in I, Will Jones, Marra takes us back to middle and high school to look at the social hierarchies of adolescence and the importance of self-love through the lens of blink-182 deep cuts and 90s YA phenomenon Animorphs. This was a time when classmate Will Jones was the most popular kid in school, and Marra’s biggest dream in life was to be Will Jones’s best friend.

Artistic licence aside, there is something incredibly humble about Marra’s approach – there is an element of self-consciousness to the show’s presentation that is extremely affecting. Marra walks the line between baring his soul, holding back, and pushing through. There is an edge of insecurity to his performance that radiates throughout the show, and prevents it from ever feeling trite or silly. It almost feels like he is acting out the scribblings of a teenager, wrestling with understanding themselves by writing themselves into the pop culture narratives they love.

Dressed in a school uniform, and posed uncertainly next to the Mongoose bike that represents his most successful attempt at status-building, Marra captures the fragility and fluidity of adolescence, as he tries to figure out which role he is playing, and what kind of tone he would like his story to hit.

The set and costume design by Harriet Denby is one of the best aspects of the show. Armed with bike and books, Marra takes us through his childhood, his hobbies and his changing feelings about his north star, Messer Jones.

Marra’s object of affection is represented by a man-sized puppet (voiced by Michael Hockey). A figure both imagined and real, Will is the avatar for everything that Marra is not, and wishes he was.

And while it may be set in the 90s, and tread in familiar pop culture references, I, Will Jones does not treat these references as the show’s reason for being. Rather than being treated as an exercise in nostalgia, they are catalysts for reflection on the effect of these things, and how they inform our growth.

Directed by Adam Goodall, I, Will Jones is wonderfully functional. Every element of the show – set design, sound and lighting – are in tune with the story’s themes and Marra’s performance. Even the puppet does not feel like a gimmick, and fulfills multiple uses within the narrative.

A sweet, unassuming character piece, I, Will Jones is another great showcase for Eamonn Marra’s talents, and a prime example of the kinds of theatre that make The Basement – especially the Studio – such a special place to be.

I, Will Jones plays at The Basement until 11 August. 

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