In His Own Write (The Voodoo Rooms, 8 – 30 Aug : 17.10 : 1hr)

“A thoroughly enjoyable performance, accessible to adults of all ages”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

In His Own Write is a delightfully bonkers collection of short stories, written by none other than John Lennon. Last staged at at the National Theatre in 1968, it seems incredulous that it hasn’t been seen since. However, perhaps this version has been given the ok due to its very simple and honest approach to just telling the stories, without any of the pomp, prestige or impersonation that could be associated with adapting such a work.

The show opens with (and indeed each story is preceded by) a short pencil-sketch animation in the style of the illustrations in the original book. Immediately the tone is set as being playful and non-fussy – embodying the spirit of the book perfectly. The trio of performers set straight to it, capturing the innocence of each story with energy and clarity, but at no point going over the top into pantomime.

What makes this collection so enjoyable is the wordplay used by Lennon on selective phrases, often changing just one or two letters to make a new word with a completely different meaning. My favourite came quite early on, in Flies on Trash, where a character is described as “a former beauty queer”, and is portrayed by the actor accordingly. Another character later on is described as “dead and duff”, and another “wandered lonely as a sock”. The deadpan delivery of every line was the perfect accompaniment to the absurdity of the writing in letting it speak for itself.

Of course, for a piece written in 1964, there are bound to be some words and phrases used that today we find a little unsavoury, and use of them could probably get one sacked from the BBC. But given the honest style of the show’s delivery – presenting the work just as it was written without any comment or spin – such phrases ring home very naturally, and don’t seem out of place in the context. If anything, they give an added layer of hilarity.

As a performance it is very slick and professionally put together, and there’s also great variety used in the techniques to share each story. A couple are sung a capella, one or two are delivered solo, some contain a few outlandish props, but all delivered clearly, with great vitality and passion for the craft. It’s well rehearsed and the transitions are smooth, maintaining the level of interest and engagement throughout.

I think for what the company were trying to achieve in the faithful presentation of the book, they succeeded with aplomb. Whether this piece is everyone’s cup of tea, or could have had more dramatic structure or development is another question. Either way, it is a thoroughly enjoyable performance, accessible to adults of all ages.



Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 24 August)

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Feature: John Lennon’s ‘In His Own Write’ at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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John Lennon’s short stories adapted for the stage for the first time since 1968

When actor Jonathan Glew was a humble and hungry student at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, he stumbled across a bizarre book of short stories in a second hand bookshop. That book was the start of a wild love affair that would see him perform the work in its entirety at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 18 years later.

The collection of stories in question is the little known In His Own Write, by none other than John Lennon. And the show of the same name made its world premiere at the Fringe this summer, presented by Baldynoggin Productions, directed by Jonathan Glew.

While 2015 marks no special anniversary of the work, Glew decided to make it this year for purely personal reasons. He says: “I found the book when I was 20 and knew it would be great for a stage adaptation, but I was in no position then to do anything about it. It was only towards the end of last year that I decided it was make or break: I either did the show or I threw the book away”.

The journey begins

It all started with a letter to the lawyers representing John Lennon’s estate – a worthy work of literature in its own right by the time Glew had finished tinkering it. He admits that it took him three weeks to craft, as he was keen to convey how he didn’t want to impersonate, make any statements, or use Lennon’s name for his personal gain, but simply to present the work faithfully and in full. Easier said than done. “I knew that they must receive countless requests everyday, so it was really important for me to let them know I was in it for the right reasons and to do the book justice”.

After a couple of weeks he got his first response from Attorney Jonas Herbsman, and the dialogue began. Glew continues: “I reiterated my position, and how my approach to present the work as part of the Free Fringe was testament to my not wanting to make a profit from it. I answered their questions, and tried to focus on the artistic aspect – how I just wanted to represent the work in full to see if it would resonate with an audience”.

After that, more waiting, until just after Christmas he got the news he had been hoping for: “I was completely elated – but then when I looked at the book again and it was like I had never read it, as I was looking at it in a completely new light. There are references to old news headlines and outdated language, and I started to worry about how I could make the book ‘live’ for a 21st century audience”.

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Creative Development

Glew got straight to work, enlisting actor friends to assist him with reading and staging the piece. He even tried to get in touch with various people that had influenced or shaped the book: its original illustrator, Robert Freeman, and publisher Tom Maschler from Jonathan Cape. And despite what could be seen as huge pressure to present the work by someone so famous, last seen at the National Theatre in 1968, Glew took it all in his stride: “I got my team together and we worked through it slowly, making sure to be as faithful to the book as possible. The amount of serendipity within the creative process was just beautiful”.

Glew admits that yes, he did watch a first edition recording of the original National Theatre production, but in no way did he try to copy it: “Theirs was hugely different to what I wanted to do with it. They presented two pieces (In His Own Write and its sequel A Spaniard in the Works) as a bit of a mash up, and used the performance to make a broader comment about childhood and growing up at the time. But I didn’t want to say anything, rather let the work speak for itself”.

Making the dream a reality

However, aside from developing a theatrical adaptation that Yoko Ono would be proud of (an idea that terrified Glew 18 years earlier), his biggest challenges lay in the production side – just how do you get a show to the Fringe?

He started by launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund the basics like travel and accommodation for the company. He revealed, though, that crowdfunding was “one of the most stressful things in my life” as he felt like he asked everyone he had ever known to contribute. He was perhaps helped in his mission by a tweet about his project from Yoko Ono herself to her 4.7 million followers – certainly not something that happens every day! Thankfully, he raised enough money to develop the show and bring it to Edinburgh without any more worries. Or so he thought.

If all the world’s a stage…

Finding a venue proved to be the biggest challenge of them all. After an application to one of the free venue groups with what he thought would be a sure-fire hit, and a tantalising six week wait for a response, Glew was told in no uncertain terms that he couldn’t be guaranteed a slot, and he started to panic. With time ticking away, he then used his personal network of contacts to come up with a Plan B and get in touch directly with Peter Buckley Hill, who manages the PBH Free Fringe. After pitching his show and his predicament, Buckley Hill responded in less than 20 minutes with an offer of one of the largest performance spaces on the free circuit. He even signed off his email as “Arnold” as a tip of the hat to John Lennon and his work. “I owe PBH a lot, they really saved me”, says Glew.

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Now Glew and his production are here, performing to very healthy crowds, and garnering a fair amount of press attention, is it mission accomplished? “It’s been a fantastic experience and I’d love to take this even further. As soon as we finish the run in Edinburgh, I’ll be putting a report together for the John Lennon estate, including some ideas of where I’d like to see the piece go next. I can’t make any detailed plans though, as they may say the project has come to the end of the road, but fingers crossed.” Luckily Glew already has his next acting project lined up though, at the National Theatre no less, but he’ll be back at the Fringe before long, in one guise or another.


In His Own Write is showing at The Voodoo Rooms daily (17.10, 1hr) until 30th August.