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Review: ‘Looking for John’ at Birmingham REP

By and | Published November 20, 2016

‘Looking for John’ is on at the REP’s smallest space, The Door, as part of Shout Festival. The play, written and performed by Tony Timberlake, is about one man’s fascination and love for Olympic gold figure skater, John Curry, and his rise and fall in fame.

Part biography and part autobiography, ‘Looking for John’ is a loving and sincere examination of a hero, his legacy, and the inspiration he was to Timberlake. It gives enough background on Curry that anyone can understand the story, without it becoming a lecture. The play also explored Timberlake’s admiration and relationship with his hero, but without becoming a show about Timberlake himself; the glimpses into his own life are not superfluous, sometimes playful, and always weave cleverly with the stories about Curry to illuminate the worlds both men inhabit, and the legacy Curry left behind.

 

Written and Performed by Tony Timberlake

Written and Performed by Tony Timberlake

Timberlake himself was wonderfully open and inviting as a performer. From the moment he first came onstage, portraying his thirteen year old self watching John win gold, you are immediately bought into his enthusiasm and energy surrounding the story he is about to tell. Aside from a few stumbled lines, his performance was energetic, and he navigated embodying multiple characters throughout the piece without becoming confusing or distorted. Considering that some of the characters are embodiments of notable figures such as Gillian Lynn, that is a worthy feat. These moments are well observed, and not caricatures of their intended. He spans the spectrum of characters from his and Curry’s interconnected lives, painting for us his exploration to know more about his hero, and in the doing so we learn about him. It is a beautiful balance of the two lives.

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As perhaps expected with a one man play, and small studio space, there is no set or props except for a single chair. However the projections of scenery, reference photos, and of Curry’s routine all meld with a carefully selected but unobtrusive soundscape, to help illustrate and embellish the narrative world Timberlake creates through his retellings.

 

In 1976, 19 million people watched Birmingham-born skater John Curry win Olympic Gold and with it international acclaim. But just hours after his victory, he was outed by a German tabloid and his downfall began.

In 1976, 19 million people watched Birmingham-born skater John Curry win Olympic Gold and with it international acclaim. But just hours after his victory, he was outed by a German tabloid and his downfall began.

In amongst all of this, there are glimpses into an entirely different world: the world of a gay celebrity forty years ago. Being gay is a factor of identity in both Curry and Timberlake’s lives, and is shown as a part of the self-examination Timberlake takes of his own identity. In this way the play explores how we choose heroes, and how they illuminate what we love and loathe in ourselves, and what we admire in them is what we desire for ourselves.

 

 

 

Overall, the play is a well paced and fascinating hour of theatre. Timberlake’s performance  is funny, heartfelt, and deeply sincere. The personal exploration of both Curry and Timberlake complement each other, and prove immensely watchable.