Leyla Josephine presents us with 'Daddy', a seeming parody of Rab C Nesbitt, oozing toxic masculinity. Josephine strides on stage in a vest, Y-fronts and check housecoat, facial hair, massive package and a persona that’s the life and soul of any party. Throughout Daddy’s time on stage, he knocks through three tinnies of lager; burps constantly; loves meat; goes fishing; and makes a BBQ whilst wearing a ‘booby’ apron. He’s basically the personification of the 1980’s male that everyone loves to hate. However Josephine doesn’t hate him; this is her father – and this performance is her exploration of the man behind the apron.
offers a fresh perspective on family dynamics, grief and the various ways the patriarchy disadvantages men
I get the impression that for the first part of the performance, we’re supposed to enjoy Daddy and appreciate his comedic side. This is reinforced by voiceovers from Josephine and her mother discussing him. He said "yes" to everything, and made her feel "loved and special". However as the performance develops, a darker side to Daddy is revealed. A cruel, embittered and violent side experiencing major mood swings and treating women incredibly badly. This element of his character builds up to a sucker punch which is heart breaking, but more for the impact on Josephine, rather than for the loss of the character. There’s also a message on how toxic masculinity makes it hard for men to seek support, however this lurks ominously and almost unmentioned.
Toward the end of the performance, Josephine removes the ‘Daddy drag’ and assumes her own persona. All traces of Daddy are poignantly put in a box, and she washes the facial stubble make-up from her face. These scenes last an inordinate amount of time, and land awkwardly with an expectant audience. We understand what’s happening, and we’re conflicted… we feel every ounce of Josephine’s emotion at the loss of her dad, and her struggle to come to terms with the type of man he was. However the almost painful pauses just last too long and suck some of the emotion out of it.
The concept behind Daddy Drag is intriguing and offers a fresh perspective on family dynamics, grief and the various ways the patriarchy disadvantages men. However the production of it is where it falls short. The opening ‘daddy rap’ was excruciating, lacking any rhythmical prowess or structure. Josephine’s portrayal of her dad in the first half of the performance is so hyperbolic that it took on a pantomimesque quality. ‘Daddy’ was not a credible character, and I get the sense that if some of those moments hadn’t been so tediously drawn out, it would have had a punchier impact when we discovered the truth behind the man. As Josephine brandished dildos and BBQ sausages, wailing ‘I’m only jokinnnnnnnnn’ repeatedly and laboriously, I just wanted it all to end.
There are elements to this performance which could be lifted substantially by a few changes to tempo and pathos, and would do the concept proper justice. It’s difficult to be critical of an expressesion of personal grief, however it’s being presented in front of an international audience. The portrayal of a flawed character is not uncommon, yet the character arc here is too sharp to be credible. The concept of being conflicted on loving and missing flawed characters is tremendously insightful, and deserves more than empty minutes of silent stage. I understand why Josephine has employed these mechanisms – the juxtaposition of mood and ambience indicating the sombre reflection her character is undergoing. It’s just that Josephine’s moments of brilliance indicate to us that this piece is in its early stages.