Jackson's Way: The London Jacksathon

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

A quick recap: Will Adamsdale was famously THE hit of the 2004 Edinburgh festival, after the short run of his work-in-progress show Jackson’s Way was championed by Fringe gurus such as Stewart Lee, gathering enough buzz to win the Perrier. But his spoof motivational life coach Chris John Jackson – the character simply disappeared off the radar, squandering the chance the accolade could have given him to catapult into the big-time.

You might think that rendered the award pointless. In which case, punch the air and yell: ‘Achieved!’ For Jackson’s entire, surreal philosophy is on doing things that have absolutely no point to them. To that end, he has just embarked on a needlessly complicated 26-date tour of his talk/workshop/seminar (or ‘talkshopinar’), playing 26 venues – every one of them within London. Pointless.

This convincing creation’s return is, however, a welcome one. As you might expect from a trained actor, Adamsdale has the patter of the self-help guru down to a T, tossing out trite inspirational maxims, made to sound important through fabricated abbreviation-littered jargon. He really is a FRC – fully rounded character.

The spirit that ‘just because you can’t do something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t’ lends the show a fun surrealism, which the audience is quick to buy into. For behind all his apparent nonsense, he does cause a psychological shift. Doing things without meaning is simply a form of play, and given licence to be childish, the audience join in with genuine enthusiasm.

Set such futile challenges – or ‘ Jacktions’ – as staring at a light fitting, or dancing gently behind a closed door, his ‘volunteers’ happily oblige. Though as a maharishi of the meaningless, Jackson has to set for himself bigger challenges, such as trying to move Notting Hill.

But Jackson’s Way is not just an easy parody of a ridiculous job. All this playfulness – which no doubt some charlatan life coach will one day package into a ‘real’ self-improvement course – culminates in a two-handed game of moving objects, a sort of 3D cousin of the legendary Mornington Crescent. Can the student defeat the master?

Away from the bubble of the Edinburgh Fringe, where anything that stands out from the norm has an inherent advantage, this slightly rejigged version of Jackson’s Way – now with PowerPoint! – still entertains. The simple-but-inspired premise does lull briefly between set-up and joyful conclusion, but there are enough added extras to minimize the effect.

These include snippets of observational comedy – given a smart twist by absorbing comments about life’s oddities into his celebration of the pointless – as well as post-traumatic flashbacks that give glimpses at the back story that led to the creation of Jackson’s philosophy. This seems to involve a mental breakdown at a business park following a traumatic stint in the military, although it is very much open to interpretation, given the tantalising ambiguity. At one point, Jackson looks sorrowfully at the chaos he’s created and says: ‘Sometimes, I really don’t know what I’m doing…’

In reality, Adamsdale knows exactly what he’s doing in creating this uniquely quirky hour, and a cult of the pointless that could take him anywhere.

Review date: 6 Jan 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Gate Theatre

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