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17th October 2016

Review: O No!

Driven by Yoko Ono’s art and message of love this play by Jaime Wood craves audience participation

Having been performed first at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and described as a ‘wonky homage to the woman damned for destroying the Beatles’, you might expect ‘O No!’ to be a damning indictment of Yoko Ono, a woman whose avant-garde art has been perpetually divisive throughout her long career.

That is not the case. Instead, the play is a whimsically self-aware traipse through some of Ono’s conceptual art instructions and while gently prodding fun at the hippy message of universal love, which it ultimately embraces, resulting in a hugely comic but heart-warming play from Jamie Wood.

The play unfolds as a series of performance art pieces taken directly from Yoko Ono’s book ‘Grapefruit’. Initially it begins with Wood in full clown mode, alighting himself on members of the audience, while hilariously linking mundane patterns of clothing to a higher, spiritual energy that “connected” the crowd.

This and a further sketch entitled ‘cut-piece’ invites audience members to cut a section of a dress that Wood adorns, represent the fun-poking aspects of the play. The image of Wood slowly losing his sartorial integrity as the audience (this reviewer included) chopped away at his dress was a purely comic one and perhaps did not result in the high-art function intended by Yoko Ono.

The ‘art pieces’ slowly increase in intensity, inviting more and more audience participation, with a lot of the play’s hysteria rising from audience members own interpretations of Yoko’s (via Wood) instructions. Strange, guttural cries erupted from audience member’s mouths when asked to do impressions of clouds. Inflatable suns whizzed about the crowd and things got intimate in ‘touch-piece’ a rather uncomfortable few minutes to say the least. While this level of audience participation may put some off (indeed- some audience members left the show prematurely) it is designed to be wholly embraced; the more you lose your inhibitions the more fun you will have.

As well as having Yoko’s book of art instructions hovering (literally) above the play, there are also other voices that lend the show its heart. Clever use of tapes interrupts proceedings, which feature Wood’s partner Wendy. The tapes help to ground the performance and remind Wood not to get too cynical or jaded about Yoko’s art. Wood’s parents are also present in tape form, wistfully ruminating on the nature of love and how to maintain it through the years. This was the subtext of the play; behind the absurdity of the performance was a message of universal love. One piece, involving ‘bagism’ (look it up) was genuinely moving, with an extremely brave and sincere audience member talking to Wood about love and loss in all its exquisite pain.

By the end, Wood managed to engage the audience in a full song and dance act, and the most striking thing is that the quality of the last ten minutes of the show depends entirely on the audience. This was a very apt ending to a unique show. Wood wanted the audience to feel, not just to see through the pretentiousness that sometimes hung over John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s art, and embrace their message of open communication and losing your self-consciousness. After all, all you need is love.

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