“EVANS IS A CHARISMATIC STORYTELLER, DRAWING US INTO HIS GEORGIA, A PLACE WHICH IS BOTH REAL AND IMAGINED, WITH HIS VIVID IMAGINATION AND EAGER, SOFT VOICE.”
Have you ever been to the state of Georgia? I certainly hadn’t before I met J. Fergus Evans, but during his intimate performance at the PULSE Festival I could swear I was there, being taken around by a resident, shown all the sights, and given privileged access to the local gossip. We are made to feel welcome in Evans’ homeland, given peaches and a taste of Southern Comfort while Evans instructs us on how to escape from dangerous wildlife (apparently alligators struggle to zigzag thanks to their short legs) and spins compelling yarns which may or may not be true.
We learn about high school mean girls with names like ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ and ‘Homecoming Queen’, the seedy bars of the South, and the nail bombs set off in the 1990s in Georgia’s gay clubs. The effect is heady, intoxicating and disorientatingly convincing; Evans is a charismatic storyteller, drawing us into his Georgia, a place which is both real and imagined, with his vivid imagination and eager, soft voice. He eats pecans from a rustic patchwork tablecloth, savouring the memories associated with the taste of home, and entrusts us with boxes which encapsulate his stories. We’re no longer an audience watching a performer: we’re friends visiting Evans’ American home for the first time, handling his possessions and listening to him share his anecdotes and insights.
This home, set up in a small dark room in the New Wolsey Theatre, is inviting and cosy; there are flickering electric candles on the floor, little paper birds decorating the wall, and an illuminated globe which shows the state of Georgia with its principal towns picked out. A screen beside Evans shows animated scenes of trees and trains which nicely complement and illustrate his stories. Several stacks of old leather suitcases remind us of what it is like to come back to the place you call home, and what it’s like to leave that comfort zone.
Home is at the heart of Evans’ show. Creating a slice of Georgia in a theatre in another country is Evans’ way of asking what home means when we are far away from it — what things we remember and what things we miss. The result is a bittersweet nostalgia in which homesickness and a longing for the familiar is moderated by facts about homophobia in Georgia (homosexuality was illegal in the state until 1998). Evans doesn’t try to romanticise his homeland, but his performance is so strong you feel like you’re actually there, walking down Peachtree Street and wiping sticky fruit juice from your chin in the company of new friends. Almost like a holiday complete with personal tour guide, all for the price of a theatre ticket.