Jono Burns brings characters to life before the audiences very eyes.
New York City is famed for its ability to attract a mix of people so eclectic, so oddball, that ultimately those myriad types meld into one another, combining to form a character we recognise instantly—the clichéd New Yorker. The magic in tonight’s performance lies in Jono Burns’ ability to bring this character collectives before the audience’s eyes, without ever letting us feel like we’ve seen the character before. It’s ambitious, but Burns is up to the task; with delicate and impressive aural support from The Wintership Quartet, Burns’ characters are fresh and authentic and his execution convincing.
Burns begins centre stage, seated and starring intently at the audience, before drawing us in with a tense monologue set on board a plane bound for JKF Airport. His voice rises and echoes off the Arts House walls, creating an unexpected tension in the rather intimate theatre. The tension soon bursts though, and it is smiles all round as Burns reveals the first of many characters that make up the Actor’s Studio Drama School. Burns has a tight grasp of vocal control, which allows him to portray a cast of characters reflecting the diversity of the mottled American population. Essential to the stability of the piece is Burns as himself—while playing narrator he manages to balance moments of touching emotion with some cleverly scripted comedic relief, thank you very much Russell Crowe.
Running for slightly over an hour, and with more than seven characters, Home? is a daunting challenge for a single actor on a virtually barren stage. However, Burns cleverly uses his accompanying musicians to transition between characters. He establishes a recurring aural atmosphere particular to each character or setting, which helps the audience follow his sudden and frequent character changes.
Home? is at its best when Burns is soul-searching, when he mines his childhood memories for inspiration to use in class. The supporting characters ultimately lose their significance as Burns grapples with his emotional trauma, culminating in his delirious ‘walk on the wild side’ freak-out on the mean streets of NYC. You almost hope at this point that there’s no punch line, no lazy ‘hawt-dawg’ gag to lighten the mood. The emotion here is raw and is best left to resonate with the gentle echo of the backing music.
So much about Home? feels like it has come straight from reality, and if this is the case, it is a credit to Burns as both a social observer and a performer. He is ably directed by Anne Browning, who must share some credit for the subtlety with which the piece shifts tone, from comedic to cathartic. As all good actors should, Burns taps into his own emotions and memories to inform his performance, and he does this capably across multiple characters.