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JAB by James McDermott at Finborough Theatre | Review

I count myself very lucky as I had a good lockdown really. I had a two-bedroom flat to myself, was able to work from home throughout and could get everything I ever wanted delivered. However, for many people, the lockdowns were not so positive and for some, relationships that appeared to be strong and able to withstand anything started to split at the seams as the strains of prolonged forced captivity began to bite, something James McDermott explores in his new play Jab getting its world premiere at the Finborough Theatre.

JAB: Photo credit Steve Gregson.
JAB: Photo credit Steve Gregson.

Anne (Kacey Ainsworth) is a 58-year-old NHS Worker. She is married to Don (Liam Tobin) and has been for twenty-nine years. They have two grown-up sons and, overall, get along pretty well. They bicker a lot – often about money as Anne has supported Don financially for much of their married life. She works while he sits in his vintage shop drinking coffee, reading the Daily Mail, and not making any contribution to the family finances, and the two of them pretty much assume this is going to be their lives for probably the rest of their time. However, in March 2020, things change as the Prime Minister put the country on lockdown due to a new virus that is running riot in the global population. Don is fairly relaxed about this. After all, according to his paper, Covid is basically only a heavy cold, and the lockdown isn’t going to last more than a few weeks. Anne, on the other hand, is very worried. She is ’in the business’ so to speak and expects that there will be many deaths with the lockdown lasting a long time. But, whatever happens, Anne and Don have been through so much together in their lives that a few weeks or months of being locked in together isn’t going to be too difficult to cope with. Is it?

The playtext for Jab says the show is inspired by true events, and that really comes across in the writing. In many ways, Don is similar to my own father. He and my mother used to bicker continually and he, like Don, always got mum to make phone calls and really knew how to wind my mum up when he wanted to. Some of the conversations Anne and Don have took me straight back to my childhood. So massive kudos to James for the characters and their relatability. Taking the overall story, following the two through 2020 and into 2021. Well, I really loved the fascinating experience of experiencing a relationship change its form over the course of a few months. Watching for those sometimes-subtle changes in personality or atmosphere that signalled a new phase in Don and Anne’s lives.

And what really elevates the basic story to a realistic and absorbing theatrical event are the performances. Ainsworth and Tobin are truly excellent as Anne and Don, respectively. Remember the song “You Say It Best When You Say Nothing at all”? Well, these two, thanks to some masterful direction from Scott Le Crass, really know how to work a silence. There are short scenes where literally nothing verbal is said but my goodness the audience is in no doubt as to what the characters are thinking and how they relate to each other. And what is wonderful is that no matter how things go or how nasty the atmosphere and bickering/banter gets (and it really does in places) there is always that undercurrent of true affection between the two characters. In fact, the final few scenes really bring home what it is that keeps couples like these together.

There are seventy-six individual scenes in the roughly seventy-five-minute run-time of Jab which sounds a lot but as you watch the show the numerous scenes, designating the passage of time, make sense. Leah Kelly’s set is fairly minimal – four chairs and numerous bottles of wine – but works to show the closeness and separation of Anne and Don as they progress through the lockdown and into whatever future awaits.

Summing up Jab and I have to say I really loved it. It’s a story of ordinary people dealing with themselves and each other during very extraordinary times. Everything about the production worked for me and I very quickly found myself emotionally involved in Anne and Don’s lives so that by the final superbly done scene, there was more than a little tear in my eye. There will in time be many plays written about the Covid pandemic and various lockdowns and ‘Coronavirus the Musical’ is probably not that far away but for me Jab is going to be the Covid-related play against which all others are measured.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Anne is tired. Tired of menopause. Tired of working in a dying NHS. And tired of her lazy sexist Daily Mail reading husband Don. But they’ve been together twenty-nine years. They know each other inside out. They’ve survived so much.

Then COVID plunges the country into lockdown, forcing them to isolate together. After all, the home is a place of safety… isn’t it?

As the world falls apart outside, Anne and Don’s marriage slowly falls apart inside. But soon there will be a solution. Won’t there?

Inspired by true events, Jab is a coruscating new black comedy, exploring power, gender, domestic violence, conspiracy theories, ignorance, and the limits of love.

Production Team


Designer – LEAH KELLY
Lighting Designer – JODIE UNDERWOOD
Associate Producer – KEVIN NOLAN
Assistant Director – JOSIE RATTIGAN
Stage Manager – ROEL FOX

Presented by Free Run Productions in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre.

James McDermott
Tuesday, 20 February – Saturday, 16 March 2024

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