Stickleback have enjoyed some great feedback
Jordan – Studio Salford at The King’s Arms
The Public Reviews' Rating *****
Shirley Jones loved her baby Jordan more than life itself. She didn’t have much else. Stuck in a flat on the south coast, miles from home, with occasional visits from her abusive boyfriend, Jordan slowly became her sole reason for living. So the threat of having him taken away was just too much to bear, and one night she committed a terrible, desperate crime.
Writer Anna Reynolds met Shirley Jones while serving a prison sentence for her own terrible crime. In 1986, at the age of 17, she killed her sleeping mother with a hammer. Both women were acquitted based on their mental state at the time of their crimes. Reynolds went on to produce successful novels and plays, one of which is Jordan, co-written with Moira Buffini. Jones wasn’t so strong.
Reynolds’ all too personal experience is harrowingly apparent in this challenging telling of Jones’ story. The script is peppered with small, painful details, and powerful, recurring memories. The language halts and stutters at times, then turns lurid and eloquent, reflecting a disturbed yet razor-sharp mind. Reynolds exposes Shirley Jones to us, hiding nothing. She’s tough, promiscuous, flawed, damaged, victimised, human. Reynolds and Buffini’s words on the page alone make for a compelling and affective tale.
But it’s the extraordinary monologue performance from Sian Weedon that makes this production so captivating. Her complete command of the narrative, her astounding physical performance which switches disturbingly from jittery indecision to steely determination, and her compelling storytelling come together to make one of the most accomplished performances I have seen anywhere this year. Director Gordon Hamlin has made a show which plays to Weedon’s physical strengths, avoiding any of the pitfalls which often blight long monologues (stand up, sit down, now pace a bit) and has put the performer in complete control of the stage. When you’re in a tiny room above a pub, a few feet from the stage, locking eyes with an actor of this calibre, it can provide some memorable moments. Tonight I felt privileged to be one of only a small audience.
The King’s Arms Studio doesn’t have a lot of seats but every one should be filled for this powerful piece of theatre which runs until Saturday. If you can’t catch it in Manchester we’re promised a revival at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe where it should go down a storm.
Jordan – Buxton Fringe at The Arts Centre (Studio)
Jordan is a tough and powerful piece of theatre that tells the true story of Shirley Jones' journey from the faded seaside town of Morecambe, through domestic violence and mental illness, to Holloway Prison where she awaits her fate. Throughout it is intercut with a retelling of the Rumplestiltskin fairy tale.
It is a harrowing story and not necessarily a comfortable watch, but it is compelling as we follow Shirley in her youthful enthusiasm as she runs away with Davy in an attempt "to lead a shiny life". It's a dream that quickly turns sour as her pregnancy, abuse and abandonment take their toll on her mental health leading to her cataclysmic act.
Sian Weedon's performance is superb; her control as she switches from the Rumplestiltskin storyteller to Shirley is remarkable, with the characters being fully delineated through her physicality and her voice. Weedon's portrayal of Shirley is exquisitely realised; her stance, her nervous tic of clutching at her clothes, her directness, and she is unafraid to use stillness and quiet to great effect. At times the language used by Shirley becomes too lyrical which doesn't seem quite in keeping with her character as it has been established, and just disturbs the belief in the character momentarily, but the force of the performance sweeps such doubts away.
While the play is powerfully written, there are times when it takes too long to get to the point, yet the motivation for Shirley's desperate act is dealt with too quickly. However, the integrity with which she refuses to look for excuses and acceptance of her position is impressively done. The device of inter-weaving the Rumplestiltskin fairy tale works well to offer temporary respite from the severity of Shirley's story, and to highlight the unreality of the world she often finds herself in.
This is not an easy watch but is well worth seeing for the central performance of Sian Weedon and the intensity of the story-telling.
Jordan – Buxton Fringe at The Arts Centre (Studio)
The Fringe Review Rating *****
Stickleback Theatre’s Jordan is a horrible, horrible play. Not a bad play, you understand, but a relentlessly disturbing one – the kind of work you flinch from, which shows you things you simply didn’t want to know. First performed back in 1992, it’s essentially a biography of real-life Morecambe woman Shirley Jones, who has the misfortune to fall for the wrong kind of boyfriend and ultimately loses even her treasured child.
There’s a restless physicality to Sian Weedon’s portrayal of Jones, evoking both the desperation of her circumstances and the spinning of her unsound mind. Addressing her monologue to the child, the eponymous Jordan, Weedon cradles the imagined infant as tenderly as any flesh and blood – and then, when the mood demands it, throws herself across the stage in an outburst of anger or fear. There are moments of beauty and some much-needed breaks in the pace, but there’s an undercurrent of vicious inevitability too. Between them, Weedon and director Gordon Hamlin have crafted a performance that’s dark, cruelly believable, and breathlessly intense.
A little too intense, maybe. It’s a 75-minute show, but I was pretty much wrung out by the hour mark, and for the last 15 minutes I was shamefully eager for the whole thing just to end. I’m inclined to question the script on this one, since the biggest, most heart-wrenching moment – you’ll know it when you see it – comes some distance short of the finishing-line. To my mind, nothing which followed could ever seem more than a postscript to that moment of desperate trauma.
In other ways, though, the writing is masterful. The words feel natural in Weedon’s mouth, but there’s a sense of oratory to them too; a vivid imagery which at times transported me to a sordid flat in Portsmouth or even to Holloway jail. There’s no doubt at all what Shirley Jones is eventually going to do – but there’s still a sickening, escalating tension, while we’re waiting for the axe to fall. And the sudden shifts of mood are a credit to both actor and playwrights, above all at the crucial moment when a disordered-but-joyful relationship suddenly turns hideously sour.
In the end, this is a play which poses unanswerable questions: it’s clear that society ultimately failed Jones, but it’s far from obvious what anyone in authority could conceivably have done. It all makes for an oddly-shaped piece of theatre, lacking a firm conclusion or a neatly-packed moral tied up in string. Still, it’s highly thought-provoking – it’s certainly that – and Shirley Jones’ real-life story deserves to be told. But my final words must go to the magnificent Sian Weedon… who transcends the script’s challenges in uncompromising style, to make this 20-year-old play her own.
Jordan – Studio Salford at The King’s Arms The Fiction Stroker's Rating ****
Jordan is an unflinching and extraordinary account of a mother driven to the brink through the machinations of her abusive partner. It was created as the result of a chance meeting between writer Anna Reynolds, and the subject of Jordan, Shirley Jones. This was, however, whilst both were in prison for murder; Reynolds for murdering her mother, Jones for murdering her child. Both were released; presented here is Jones’ story.
Such circumstances obviously mean that the story is going to be harrowing and challenging. However, it cannot prepare you for how thought-provoking and intense Jordan is. Reynolds and co-writer Moira Buffini’s script is raw; emotional; disturbing and paranoid. The writing is stylish with observations and asides thrown out the audience almost as incidental, yet haunting, detail. For instance, Shirley’s father, suffering from lung cancer, is said to have hands “stained yellow with the blood of his killer”, such evocative detail embellishes the script as circumstances hurtle to their conclusion.
Jordan is defined stylistically by its dramatic tonal shifts. Interspersed with a fairy tale, Jordan swings from very dark to a much lighter Rumpelstiltskin tone demanding the audience to keep up. These dramatic shifts in tone I found jarring, such is their sudden appearance; however, this suddenness does not let you dwell on the dark content of the story.
Sian Weedon delivers an incredibly powerful and deep monologue as Shirley. Creating a character wildly out of her depth, and so scarily raw, Weedon makes her sympathetic and sure in her convictions. Physically, she throws herself across the stage. Each punch landed by her abusive partner is matched by Weedon’s dramatisation of the physicality and brutality of this final confrontation. She also actively seeks out individual members of the audience, her eyes burning the story onto you. By contrast, her eye contact is not so vivid as Shirley opens up about her past and appears not to be playing to the jury in court, and Weedon becomes more vulnerable in a truly evocative performance.
Director Gordon Hamlin creates a stark, bare, but fast-paced atmosphere. Punctuated by lighting that heightens or darkens the mood, attention is solely focused on Weedon and her captivating story. Intense, claustrophobic, and unpredictable, Jordan is not easily forgotten. The tagline for Jordan claims that the story is “unlikely to leave you unmoved”. Judging by the tears streaming down the faces of those in the room, how true this is.
The Fiction Stroker gives Jordan four strokes out of five:
Jordan – Studio Salford at The King’s Arms What's on Stage's Rating ***
Shirley Jones lives a squalid life. Good looking, if not too bright, Shirley has no trouble attracting boyfriends including the man who fathers her child, Jordan. For the first time Shirley thinks of someone other than herself as Jordan brings out a savage maternal instinct. So why did she kill her own child?
Sian Weedon gives an unflinching performance as Shirley making no effort to disguise her unsympathetic aspects or those of any of the other characters she enacts including the reptilian father. Weedon shows Shirley to be stunned by feeling gentle emotions for the first time in her shallow life but also completely out of her depth in coping with the realities of the world.
Co-authors Anna Reynolds and Moria Buffini are capable of evocative descriptions. Shirley’s relationship with her son is described in primal terms of warmth and scent. However, possibly because the play is based on a true incident, they seem reluctant to manipulate the details for dramatic effect.
They go beyond explaining what most people will find hard to comprehend – how a mother could commit infanticide- and describe Shirley’s life with her abusive partner and later in gaol. The play becomes a biography of someone who it is really hard to like. For once the justice and care systems seem to have worked appropriately so there is no sense of institutional injustice. The play becomes a litany of one misfortune after another with less and less emotional impact. Finally, instead of being overwhelmed by the horror of the situation or moved by a life wasted, you just feel numb - which cannot have been the objective.
Director Gordon Hamlin delivers a fast-moving production that avoids the static feeling of a show with just one actor. But he allows the play to extend past the emotional point where it would have been logical to bring it to a close.
Jordan – The Garrick Altrincham
The Messenger's Rating *****
No wonder Jordan, the award winning play by Anna Reynolds and Moira Buffini about a mother who murders her child, is so disturbing. One of the co-writers, Anna Reynolds, had committed murder herself. When she was only 17 she killed her sleeping mother with a hammer but after two years of a life sentence, was reprieved after a diagnosis of premenstrual stress syndrome caused by a hormone imbalance. Jordan is also a true story which makes it doubly heart-rending. One wonders whether Anna actually met Shirley, who killed her own child, in prison.
The story of the immature woman who suffocates her beloved thirteen-month old son out of love, is told in a one woman show starring Sian Weedon of the Stickleback Theatre Company.
She tells what happens so convincingly that you see her side of the story and even sympathise with her.
It’s the all too common situation of an innocent who gets caught up with an older, ruthless man.
Her partner soon loses interest in her and the baby and sleeps around with other women in their shared flat.
When he leaves she has time to bond with her son of the title name until he returns and both mother and child suffer hell.
Sian cleverly highlights the few highs and many lows in the life of this girl. Her intonation, facial expression and use of pause are excellent. Never exaggerating or over acting, Sian quietly recounts the feelings and fears of a woman who loves her child but is terrified of his father. She quivers in nervous moments and cries real tears as she recalls the mental torture and physical battering she suffers from this monster of a man.
In contrast she is excited in the early years when she rides on her partner’s motorbike and shares his flat.
For over an hour she unswervingly talks to you as though you were a cellmate, dragging you kicking and screaming into her world.
This play will really get to you and you’ll be forgiven for shedding a few tears.
Well directed by Gordon Hamlin, you realise how unfair life can be to the most vulnerable.
Shirley is unexpectedly released but there is no happy ending and you come away with a large lump in your throat.
Jordan – The Electric Picture House
Artists’ Co-Operative in Congleton
Jerry Park is a director of award-winning amateur productions; trustee, Nantwich Players Theatre; trustee, Arnold Bennett Society; governor, Mid Cheshire Hospitals; member of court, University of Kent; retired Secretary, Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals
I don’t return to many amateur productions for a second viewing, but was drawn again to see Sian Weedon’s stunning performance - first seen in the relative comfort of the little theatre in Nantwich - as ‘Shirley’ in the one-woman show Jordan.
Jordan is a monologue of around 70 minutes’ duration. Based on a true story, it is told in the first-person by ‘Shirley’, a young mother who has killed her baby boy so that he is not taken away by his manipulative and abusive father. The shabbiness of the Electric Picture House, with the audience on loosely-placed garden chairs, and very obvious street noises immediately beyond the acting area, lent itself to the sordid setting of the play.
The play is written with neither sentimentality nor political dogma, but with the generous sense of common humanity found in the great 19th century realist novels of Tolstoy or George Eliot. Increasingly, many of us use social shorthand - ‘chavs’, ‘nerds’, even ‘bankers’ – to avoid more complex and difficult analysis of human behaviour. I left Jordan wanting to kick the habit.
It was directed sparely by Gordon Hamlin, with minimum lighting, sound or properties. It was acted with terrific discipline and judgement by Sian Weedon. The text sets some traps for the actor. It is book-ended by a fairy tale that Sian narrates, a useful device for recalling the audience to the difference between life and fiction. At points through the play, ‘Shirley’ tells her story in the voice of the persons with whom she is interacting, creating a danger that the virtuosity of the actor obscures the plight of the character. Sian handles this effectively, delivering the fairy tale narrative ‘straight’ and placing the other voices within a plausible range for ‘Shirley’. The random proximity of the audience at Congleton also gave Sian many useful opportunities for lingering eye contact as she told her story. Her use of pace, pause and gesture is exemplary: pauses have purpose - to add an unspoken emotion, or to give the audience a brief moment of reflection – and every gesture is tailored to its context. Acting within the confined space of an imagined interview room, she produces some compelling visual pictures.
Stickleback are touring a range of venues, but could profitably join a wider circuit because Jordan is powerful enough to grip any audience despite itself. Moreover, text and performance raise social, ethical, even philosophical issues that could be used at different levels of secondary and further education, and for training in health- and social-care. The spare direction and the skilful acting (‘the art that conceals art’) of the production would form a useful basis for workshops and seminars for drama students.
Jordan – The Harlequins Theatre Northwich
Janet Oliver is Rural Touring Director. Co-opted Board member of National Rural Touring Forum
Organiser of Goosfest, ( a village based 10 day music and arts festival)
This is an astonishingly riveting and heart-wrenching play performed with immense style, control and ability by Sian Weedon who holds the stage and one's attention unflinchingly through a drama which unfolds inexorably to its tragic conclusion.
The final stark projection of the actual outcome of this real woman's story actually elicited a gasp of horror and sadness.
The subject matter is brutal in its' reality and depiction of the consequences of brutalisation, abandonment and lack of nurture throughout childhood, continuing into adulthood., because of a need to be taken out of a damaging life, but jumping into another even worse reality.
A story dealing with the most primitive of human emotions; a mother's love for her child, the realities of the law and punishments for Infanticide.
Sian's presentation of the piece was exquisitely nuanced, clearly well researched with every gesture giving meaning and depth to her portrayal of this woman who might be described as more sinned against than sinning.
The production was sparely designed, to focus attention on Sian and her surroundings which gradually become clear, and the direction of this talented actress was masterly.
It is a performance which left me unable to converse at the end, wanting simply to reflect on the horrors and terrible misfortunes of peoples' lives.
I believe this play would be an enormous assistance in training in domestic abuse, the consequences of neglect and lack of attachment in childhood, for new social workers, those working in domestic abuse arenas, probation and prison officers.
In addition, whilst somewhat harrowing, it could form part of the “citizenship” lessons in upper schools, sixth form colleges, further education colleges.
It is a master-class of acting technique, particularly of one-actor shows, for students of drama at sixth form, University and drama schools.
It might be suitable, in conjunction with drama groups working in prisons to take it into those arenas, with appropriate preparation and input afterwards by staff.
I would like to think it could be toured on the Rural Touring circuit, with an additional piece, maybe lighter in content, or with a Q&A session on the issues raised in the play. Whilst the content is darker than many promoters naturally choose for their rural audiences, if billed and planned appropriately it would certainly be a play which stays with those who watch it.
Jordan – Edinburgh Fringe 2013 Assembly Hall
Three Weeks Edinburgh Rating ****
All sorts of nasty hobgoblins and grotesque boggarts lurk around this modern Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale. Physical abuse, mental illness and toxic maternal love all menacingly patrol this real-life story of Shirley Jones. A girl of the Morecambe sands, of soggy chip packets and dreary seaside life, Shirley is pushed to the edge as her precious relationship with her baby is put into jeopardy. Performed with tormenting sensitivity and vulnerability by Sian Weedon, ‘Jordan’ is a truly eye-opening production that casts a spell of quiet solemnity and sadness over its audience. Elevating the most haunting of fairy tales to a disturbing reality, ‘Jordan’ is a feat of storytelling that spins horrific real-life into a golden work of theatre.
The Public Reviews
Buxton Fringe Review
The Fiction Stroker
What's On Stage
Three Weeks Edinburgh
reviews and feedback
"Between them, Weedon and director Gordon Hamlin have crafted a performance that’s dark, cruelly believable, and breathlessly intense" ★★★★
"The intensity of the story-telling... Sian Weedon's performance is superb"
Buxton Fringe Review
"Captivating... astounding physical performance" ★★★★★
The Public Reviews
"Intense, claustrophobic, and unpredictable . . . . not easily forgotten. Her
eyes burning the story onto you" ★★★★
The Fiction Stroker
"Sian Weedon gives an unflinching performance... Director Gordon Hamlin
delivers a fast-moving production that avoids the static feeling of a show with just one actor" ★★★
What's on Stage
"Drags you kicking and screaming into her world" ★★★★★
See Full Reviews alongside