John and Jen for Sydney Fringe

John and Jen for Sydney Fringe

As part of the Sydney Fringe Festival recent WAAPA graduates Edward Grey and Naomi Livingston will appear in John and Jen, a two-hander musical composed by Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family) and Tom Greenwald, playing just six showsat Sidetrack Theatre, Marrickville from 20 – 24 September.

John and Jen follows the story of a woman torn between the two Johns in her life – the brother that died in the Vietnam War, and the son she is struggling to bring up.

John and Jen explores how we are divided by ideology, circumstance and choice, but always united by love.

Stage Whispers spoke to Edward and Naomi about the show.

Stage Whispers: Exactly who are John and Jen?

Naomi: In the first act, they’re brother and sister, then in the second act Jen’s journey continues, but John becomes her son John. Basically it’s Jen’s journey throughout the play, dealing with her relationship with her brother, and then, following that, the relationship with her son.

Ed. It spans about 40 years.

Stage Whispers: Can you tell us a little about those relationships, and how they are explored during the play?

Ed. At the start they live in a house with a slightly abusive father. Jen makes a promise to John that they’re going to look after each other, and get out of home as soon as they can, no matter what. It ends up that Jen does leave for college, and John stays behind. John goes to fight in the Vietnam War and actually dies there, and Jen is left with this incredible guilt, that she didn’t save her brother in time. She then has a son, and eventually she finds redemption, and forgives herself through her relationship with her son.

Stage Whispers: Can you find something of yourself in your characters?

Ed. I’m really lucky, because I get to play two characters. The first John is a guy who let people look after him. He’s a loving soul, but he’s not filled with ambition or anything like his older sister. That becomes his downfall.

I really relate to the second John, who is, by contrast, very ambitious, driven and passionate, and a man who ends up helping his mum out.

It’s interesting, because they’re two such different characters, but what actually happens in the play is that the carer becomes the cared for, which is a flip from what the relationships are in the first act.

Stage Whispers: Do you see something of yourself that you bring to the role?

Ed: I come from a family of four, and I’m very close to my siblings, but they have lived overseas for a lot of my life, so I really relate to that part of the story where Jen moves away. There’s something very special as sibling love, and that’s not explored all that much – that special, unique love you share with your brothers and sisters. Of course in the second act that it changes to mother and son, but Jen always has a connection to her brother, who she really loved. It’s really a beautiful sort of love – not two characters falling in love, but the love that exists between two characters, and that special bond.

Stage Whispers: While Ed plays two different characters, Jen’s character spans a far longer period of life and experience.

Naomi: She starts off very young – at age six, but ends the play in her 40s.  It says a lot about the fact that you never stop learning or growing as a person, and that you’re still trying to improve the way you think and the way you relate to people. It makes me think a lot about my mum. As an adult myself, when I related to her, she would talk to me about how she was still learning that she needed to listen to people more, and she needed to understand her upbringing and how that influenced the way she related to her kids. That is reflected in Jen’s journey in the play, spanning such a long time. The audience gets to go on the journey with her and see how she develops, and where she falls down, and where she gets back up again.

Stage Whispers: It sounds like an unconventional idea for musicalisation.

Ed: What’s interesting about the show is that the first and second acts are very deliberately written to mirror each other. Andrew Lippa, who co-wrote the Addams Family, The Wild Party, and various other things, and Tom Greenwald, have made a deliberate choice to  musicalise it by having similar musical journeys as well as dramatic journeys.

Naomi: And there’s musical repetition, although it’s still very varied in its style - it reflects the habits that Jen acquires – her coping mechanisms and her moments of guilt are really reflected in this, but meanwhile the whole musical certainly has a varied feel about it, and you go through different experiences – you really feel the pumping excitement of sport matches in the music, and then you really feel the torment of the inner monologue in other pieces.

Stage Whispers: Are there big songs and ballads as well?

Naomi: It definitely has big – arias – I suppose you’d call them, where you get to see the inner workings of both John’s mind and Jen’s mind – and the way they battle with themselves really. They’re very telling songs.

Ed: It also has a lot of lovely funny …

Naomi: … playful …

Ed: … comedic songs. Especially when they’re kids. You get the light in their lives as well.

Stage Whispers: Do you have particular favourite musical moments?

Naomi: For me it would have to be in act 2.  There’s a great song based around a baseball game.  Poor John, the son, is a really terrible player, and Jen is trying very, very hard to be a supporting mother, but just ends up being one of those really overbearing …

Ed: Soccer mums

Naomi: It’s a very enjoyable piece to perform, bur also hilarious for the audience to watch these two people in this very playful experience.

Ed: Mine would have to be in the first act, when they’re younger, and they have this great history lesson which Jen gives to John, which eventually turns into her teaching him all about life – it’s a really lovely song, full of joy, called Think Big.

Stage Whispers: What style of production can we expect?

Naomi: I think it will be an intimate experience for the audience – they can be really absorbed into the world and the lives of these characters, and the different spaces that we create from the simple set.

Ed: We’ve been really lucky with the company we have working with us. It’s a company of people who all work on other shows. Our director, Ben, is performing in Mary Poppins, our lighting designer works at Jersey Boys, our choreographer is in Love Never Dies in Melbourne, and our stage manager comes from STC.

John and Jenplays at Sidetrack Theatre, Marrickvillefrom September 20 to 24. All tickets, $27 Bookings: Fringe Box Office (02) 9020 6980 /

Win Tickets

Competition closed - winners - Mara Davis, Martina Gleeson, Tanya Boyle.

Who composed John and Jen? The first two people to email the answer and their name to will receive a double pass for Wednesday 21st September.

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