Fringe review: Jesus, Jane, Mother & Me

In an empty house a young man is waiting to celebrate Mother’s Day, but the more he describes her – and their religious devotions and special bonds – the more uncertain his rapture becomes. ★★★★★

Feb 16, 2023, updated Feb 16, 2023
Jack Stokes as Daniel in 'Jesus, Jane, Mother & Me'. Photo: Supplied

Jack Stokes as Daniel in 'Jesus, Jane, Mother & Me'. Photo: Supplied

After the chintzy palladium orchestra fanfare, it is his cheery manner which captures us first. This young extravagant man, eyes wide, all gestures and beaming smile. Hello, I’m Daniel Valentine.

He is in his mother’s house dressed in a summer dressing gown and is waving a bright red duster. We notice from Craig Lomas’s set that the door behind him is boarded up; there is a conspicuous cross on the wall, two chairs and baskets full of unsorted clothing.

Daniel is having some kind of spat with his neighbour Joyce. He wanted to give her a red duster, but she rejected him. He leaves it out on the roadway and spies to see if she has collected it. He talks about music that he loves – Passion Pop, Songs of Praise and Jane. More of Jane later.

Describing his isolation, Daniel talks about his absent mother. She said he put too much store on the opinion of others. He admits he finds life disappointing. There are references to a church figure, the Reverend Birch, and his mother. She is a very dominant woman, he says matter of factly. He writes wryly in her Mother’s Day card: “Thank you for making me the man I am today.”

UK playwright Philip Stokes’s excellent monologue (which he also directs) unfurls from the perspective of a young man who is persecuted at school and isolated from friends because of his difference. He has anxiety attacks, is probably gay and is perpetually bullied.

His mother is taken into the arms of an evangelical church group and Daniel also joins in. When the Rev Birch preaches the forthcoming day of Rapture, when the faithful are summoned, Daniel sees salvation from his pent-up life in small town Yorkshire.

Then, when the church group goes on an excursion to a concert, Daniel’s life is transformed. Never having been to a live performance before, he is dazzled by its spectacle. More glorious than church, the central singer captures his attention. Jane McDonald is an actual Yorkshire singer made famous by the reality TV show The Cruise, featuring her life as an on-board entertainer.

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Mother and son are both agog with her stage presence and power ballads. Jane has replaced Jesus. They clear Daniel’s bedroom and create the Nerve Centre – with Jane merch and memorabilia. Daniel drily notes that Family Services called it a shrine.

As Daniel, Jack Stokes, the 18-year-old son of the playwright, brilliantly and poignantly sustains the young man’s quixotic drive to be himself in an unwelcoming, un-nurturing world. The distinctive Yorkshire accent and descending cadence is reminiscent of those dry deadpan Alan Bennett monologues where nothing is quite what it seems and, as here, things start to come seriously apart at the seams.

Stokes’s brave smile becomes more brittle, his dazzle more flickering. His unravelling story, and its telling, makes for a spellbinding hour of theatre.

Jesus, Jane, Mother & Me is playing at The Studio, Holden Street Theatres, until March 19 as part of the 2023 Adelaide Fringe. It is Holden Street Theatres’ 2022 Edinburgh Fringe Award Winner.

Read more 2023 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews on InReview here.

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