A painful and chilling play about a very difficult topic, handled with the utmost care and sensitivity.
Both Holly Joyce, as the mother, and Naomi Stafford, as Hope, give stellar performances. Joyce plays the anxious, helpless and heartbroken mother beautifully. However, Stafford has the real challenge. Her naive, watery performance in the first half of the play somewhat surprisingly gives way to a moving and, at moments, graphic portrayal of sex trafficking towards the end. Her mother’s story is delivered in a conversational manner to begin with, placing us in the position of therapist. Hope’s story, however, sound more like a diary entry than speech at times as she gushes about her new boyfriend, before turning into vivid storytelling, flipping the tone on its head as events turn dark.
Sally Lewis’ script is nuanced and powerful. However, narratively speaking, sixty minutes simply doesn’t feel long enough for many of the themes to be fully explored, and the script can make presumptive jumps without allowing time for the narrative to develop. Revolving around Hope’s central story of sex trafficking are three parallel stories: two short accounts of when a mother felt powerless to save her young child, both with sexually implicated circumstances, and Hope’s mother’s own emotionally manipulative husband. Though these stories lend a depth to the guilt of Hope’s mother and the dangerous way in which men have played roles in both their lives, these disparate examples don’t feel substantial enough to bolster around the central theme of sex trafficking.
Director Ben Mills’ staging at times doesn’t help an already contrived narrative. However, it's mostly stripped back enough for performances to shine in a small venue. How Is Uncle John? is a painful and chilling play about a very difficult topic, handled with the utmost care and sensitivity.