“So confident!” “So on his game!” “Who is??” “Who is??” “Jackson.” “Jacksonnn.” And with this whispered self-introduction and a handful of fake snow Will Adamsdale’s alter ego, life coach Chris John Jackson, comes walking down the aisle.
The audience is already on side. Perhaps because they already know Jackson from his Fringe debut in 2004 or his 26-dates-in-26-days revival tour in 2011. But for those who haven’t met Chris John Jackson before, recall David Brent’s brief stint as a motivational speaker and you’re halfway there. Throw in some audience participation, a few nonsensical graphs, a lot of contractual references to Christmas and a “live” feed from Preston and you’re have a good grasp of what this show entails. Adamsdale’s quasi-Christmas show, which sees Jackson forced to put a festive spin on his apparently award-winning life coaching seminar, is just as darkly comic as The Office Christmas Special and considerably more inventive.
Jackson’s Way – or doctrine – centres around “Jacktions”, a series of possibly impossible acts such as trying to put your hand in two places at once or attempting to move the floor. Jackson uses his brilliantly old school powerpoint presentation and various audience members to show that just because these actions are pointless and/or impossible, it doesn’t mean you stop trying and it doesn’t mean they’re not fun. And they are fun. We go on to learn about compound Jacktions – multiple Jacktions strung together. Cut to the audience performing a series of very pointless acts on cue, or nearly on cue. It might all seem silly, but in combining these actions into patterns and assigning roles to people Jackson, or rather Adamsdale, simultaneously questions and defends the arguably pointless collection of actions that make up our day to day lives.
And just when it seems that the show might consist of little else but this, the production shifts tone. Jackson gives a manic description of his heyday and subsequent withdrawal from life coaching, triggered by a bad review, which builds to an uncomfortable crescendo that is broken by the short circuiting of the powerpoint presentation. There is a brief pause and then Jackson readily abandons the broken technology and goes back to basics, drawing back a curtain to reveal a flipchart and, more importantly, the collection of crap behind it. We are introduced to this accumulation of flotsam and jetsam item by item as the objects are artfully strewn across the stage. There’s an incomplete set of placemats depicting fat pigs, a plastic champagne flute without a base, a washing machine agitator that Jackson picked up in Australia. He is half proud and half despairing of his collection. Here a real sense of dejection creeps into the show.
It ends with Jackson reluctantly fulfilling his contractual obligations by telling the nativity story with the help of these objects. This is beautifully executed and brilliantly funny. A twisted bundle of wires becomes twisted King Herod and a squeaky pogo stick is cast as the donkey. Adamsdale, a nimble performer, easily weaves hiccups into his show: when “Joseph” falls over, it’s because Joseph is tired. As the objects are anthropomorphised all those useless things become imbued with a new purpose and significance. There’s a real emotional weight to this sequence, by far the strongest moment in the show, as it becomes clear that it’s not the action (or the Jacktion) itself that matters, rather the effort we put in.