Reviews Performance Published 14 May 2012

The Jonny Woo Show

ICA ⋄ 10th May 2012

From cult hero to pop icon.

Bojana Jankovic

The institution that is Jonny Woo is now trying to make that last step from a cult-hero to a pop-icon.  His latest brainchild, simply named The Jonny Woo Show, is ‘part The Word, part Later…with Jools Holland’, and is exactly what you would expect from that descriptions: a live recording of a TV show featuring several bands and musicians – and the one and only Johnny Woo, entertaining his audience in between the acts.

The show, filmed as a YouTube pilot, follows the genre formula to a tee, the only inevitable idiosyncrasy being the unlikely nature of the prime-time host. Given the format it seems almost unfair to judge the piece in any way – it’s not meant to be repeatable, it’s not meant to be the same night after night. Rather, the show, which is shot at the ICA  should, in theory at least, be the first in the long production line of a series, that would undoubtedly have its ups and down, and reveal how thrilling some bands are, and how disappointingly boring others might be. If history is reliable in any way, it would also stand a decent chance of becoming another one of Jonny Woo’s platforms for young, emerging, artists, who might not necessarily fit  the beaten track.

Having said that, it might just be that The Jonny Woo Show would benefit from some more development time before being picked up for a whole season. Jonny’s antiques always carry a substantial amount of spark and almost guaranteed fun. Just imagining his Mary Portas incarnation or Jeanette’s fashion tips as a regular feature of any TV or viral show is an already entertaining prospect, but those of us in the know have already experienced and laughed out loud at these personae. Instead of pushing the by now almost dry and mundane format as far as he could, and finding ways to twist and turn it over and over again Jonny Woo satisfies himself with being the one and only subversion. Ultimately that doesn’t make this show any different from an episode of Later…, a show which relies equally on its host’s charm, knowledge and skill. It does however lack the inventiveness of its other role-model, The Word, a programme that in its day not only produced some scenes of music history, but also had a section specially devoted to TV-wannabes who were prepared to go that extra humiliating mile for a chance to appear on the screen, something it was doing well before reality shows became the norm.

The Jonny Woo Show is in its essence simply a quirky version of a TV standard. That doesn’t mean it misses out on a chance to introduce acts the author cherishes  – some of whom are going for the same transition into pop as Jonny Woo is. The most notable example, and the music star of this theatrical pilot, is Bishi, a former club-heroine and a classically trained sitar player who makes St George inspired tunes (complete with a queen-worthy gown). Her conceptual music that toys with so many notions it’s hard to catch on to all of them in five minutes, is a stark contrast to the mainstream friendly cameo appearance by Dan Gillespie (of The Feeling fame). This incidental and perhaps odd mix, in which Gillespie gets exactly the kind of attention you would expect, is as far as The Jonny Woo Show goes in making pop seam like the underdog – at least in the pilot.

Bojana Jankovic

Bojana Jankovic is one half of There There, a company composed of two eastern European theatre directors who turned from theatre to performance only to repeatedly question their decision. Before shifting to collaborative projects, she worked as a director and dramaturg on both classics and contemporary texts. She also wrote for Teatron, a Belgrade theatre magazine. She has a soft spot for most things pop, is surprisingly good at maths for a thespian, and will get back to learning German any day now.

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