A few weeks ago in Garter Lane Arts Theatre in Waterford, audiences were treated to a somewhat different piece of theatre. Titled The January Show, this piece could ostensibly be called a play, but the clue is in the title. The January Show – written and directed by Waterford writer, Anna Jordan – is more than a play. It is indeed a “show”, featuring drama, music, dance, and spoken word – with a live band on stage throughout.
The January Show tells the story of the eponymous, January, the offspring of an alcoholic father and a distant mother, struggling to deal with her family, her feelings for spoiled rich kid, Emily August, and the amorous attentions of Emily’s brother, referred to simply as “Boy”.
“It’s the story of a dysfunctional young girl told through excerpts from her diary,” Anna tells me. “It displays obsession, loss, love, and what it takes to surpass a storm.”
Anna is – as she says herself – “a born and bred Waterford girl and publican’s daughter”. (The pub she refers to is the Waterford institution “Jordan’s Bar”). She got her first break writing a one act play for Waterford’s Imagine Arts Festival.
“I didn’t have a clue what I was doing,” she laughs. “I remember the programme for the festival was out, my play was advertised and I didn’t have the thing written. I wanted to emigrate! But I managed to get it from page to stage through pure panic.”
Several shows followed, one of which – The Bannisters – was a sell out show. Anna had found her feet. But she soon realised that juggling life and art wasn’t easy.
“I was a young mother of three, and bride-to-be. I had no time to be a writer. To script The Bannisters, I had to pull all-nighters and then do school runs and then go back to work in the pub for the night, then home to write and that was just on repeat. I only managed to stage a few short plays. Just trying to hold onto who I was.”
This all changed in 2014. “My marriage broke down. It was just awful. My world fell apart. I wound up getting sick and was so weak and couldn’t breathe. I’d never felt so bad and was treated worse. So I decided it was never going to happen again and that is where The January Show came from.”
Anna decided to work through it with her writing. “The January Show is every part of me,” she says. “It was a two year process of recovery done through theatre.”
(Karina Thompson, Gráinne Kavanagh, and Becky Phelan in The January Show)
“I decided I would write, direct, compose, and sing in the show. With a cast of five and a band of six and still juggle being a single mother of three. I really believed I had bitten off more than I could chew. I was actually convinced of it. I felt like I did all those years ago when I was writing my first short, I just wanted to flee the country.”
But, once again, she didn’t flee. She stayed and put on a memorable piece of theatre. It’s brilliant to see a playwright (or any writer) not afraid to take risks. It’s also wonderful to see so many young people at the theatre. On the night I was in attendance, the audience was probably split 50/50 between over-25s and under-25s, and all the under-25s seemed to love the show. (I even heard one young girl call it “The best piece of theatre I’ve ever seen”).
“To see the audience jump to their feet at the end of each performance made the hell of putting the piece together all worthwhile,” Anna says. “Aside from my children, this was what I was living for. This is who I am.”