“They fuck you up, your mum and dad”, Philip Larkin said in his famous poem, and even if it doesn’t apply to everyone to the same degree, it’s an assertion that stood the test of time. Richard Marsh explores that very truth, probably a little less angrily, definitely more humorously and – to keep with the poem theme – with a surprisingly amount of rhyming.
Marsh starts his monologue (and monologue it is, even though another character enters soon) as a lighter version of Nick Payne’s The Art of Dying, and admittedly this is a strange path to take but soon enough, the narration takes a different turn: the enforced reunion of father and son after twenty years takes the form of a road trip and the ghost (of Christmas past, present and future?) that you can’t shake. Father wants to stick around, son thinks he wants to move away. Then new babies and new relationships (in that order) come along and he doesn’t know what to think or what he wants.
The text is often very funny
(“And I realise, my foreskin is sore skin. Full of blood and anguish, like a speech by Aaron Sorkin”) with verbal flights of fancy and a sweet fluttering heart. It captures the moment when preconceptions, family secrets and new possibilities ambush you into immobility. It’s particularly perceptive regarding new parenthood, all the dark and funny and incoherent thoughts that come with a new life and sleepless nights. But most importantly, through the jokes and the rhyming couplets, the text stays with the truth of it. It’s all recognisably real.
Richard Marsh delivers the text with disarming sincerity, somewhere between a performance and an embarrassed confessional. He takes several roles, including young Brigitte from Wales, and makes something strong and playful on all of them. Jerome Wright as the Dad keeps his cards closer to his chest. He is never so likeable as to be forgiven, but he is forthright and relentless enough to earn a degree of respect. And he is right. Which is the annoying thing about parents. Even the shitty ones. They are right some of the time. Knowing when is to grow up.
At Soho theatre till 20 September, then on tour.