Sunday, February 26, 2023



Jesus, Jane, Mother and Me. 

Written and directed by Philip  Stokes. Performed by Jack Stokes. Set and lighting design by Craig Lomas. Sound design by Annie May Fletcher. Adelaide season produced by Holden Street Theatres,Lawrence Batley Theatre,KETCHUP Productions and Richard Jordan Productions -  The Studio – Holden Street Theatres. February 14 – March 19 2023. Adelaide Fringe.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins.

 There is something instantly unsettling about Craig Lomas’s set design for Philip Stokes’s Jesus, Jane, Mother and Me. It may be the boarded up wall. It could be the impression, left by a crucifix that once hung for many years on the back wall. And then there is the clock on the wall, permanently stopped at thirteen past four. The room appears deserted and yet 18 year old Daniel Valentine (Jack Stokes) stands in the centre dressed in boxer shorts and an open shirt and smiling cheerfully at his audience. Suddenly he leaps into action, limbs gesticulating and greeting the audience with welcoming effusion. His voice ricochets through the space as he begins to tell the audience the story of his life. His diction is precise, his words formed with elocuted precision. His body leaps and thrusts, articulating each word with spontaneous energy. And yet it appears forced. The character, not the actor. Jack Stokes’s performance as a young man whose external manner appears to belie a covert reality is brilliant, magnetic and entirely enticing in its almost manic telling of his story. Writer Philip Stokes injects his character so convincingly played by actor Stokes with dialogue that teases curiosity while also suggesting something more sinister. And yet there is something that reminds me of Frank Spencer in Some Mother’s Do Have Them. It is a naivety, agullibility, a stereotyped impression of a single male child raised by a single mother. And yet Daniel contradicts my assumption with forceful assertion. “I know who I am”

And yet the unsettling feeling persists through his account of being embraced by the Rapture under the evangelical guidance of Reverend Birch. His devotion to his faith and his Reverends are all embracing. Here he can find salvation from those who scorn and bully him for being different. Here he can find a community where he can belong. Stokes’s script is ingeniously interwoven with the excess of religious fervor. It is a small step to his obsession for Jane McDonald, a singer and TV celebrity, who dazzles him with her performance during his first visit to the theatre. Religious rapture and the obsession of a superfan are the beacons in his search for identity and belonging. Stokes’s performance of a young man’s ascent into obsession is mesmerizing as he discovers his Hallelujah and creates a shrine to McDonald. And yet the feeling persists, fuelled by Stokes’s rising crescendo from prose to poetry as Daniel becomes subsumed by fantasy.

The unravelling comes like a thief in the night. Stokes’s exalted prose gradually turns to cynicism, sarcasm and anger as Daniel’s rapture and adoration of his star begin to fade into the reality of a life of rejection, disappointment and isolation. Philip Stokes’s voice of youthful exuberance gives way to the terse and tormented voice of abandonment. Stokes is a writer who knows his character intimately and in the one hour monologue can find the voice to utter Daniel’s trajectory from innocence to tragedy. Jack Stokes portrays Daniel with gripping authenticity. He inhabits the tormented youth with searing intelligence and empathy. As Ave Maria swells throughout the final scene, Stokes cries out his defiance against a faith that let him down, a neighbor who spurned him, a celebrity who led him to disillusionment and a mother’s lover who forced him from his home. In the final moments of Jesus Jane Mother and Me Daniel’s despairing wail “I know who I am” is a plea to an audience transfixed by the power of the play and the brilliance of the performance to understand.

Jesus Jane Mother and Me is much more than a cry for compassion. It is a warning against prejudice and indifference. It is an advocate for acceptance and love. It offers a meaning that is too important to ignore. Holden Street Theatres is to be applauded for bringing this powerful work and outstanding performance to the Adelaide Fringe. For Adelaide Fringe goers it is one show that is not to be missed.