Pops is a complex contemplation of intergenerational addiction, featuring a father and daughter trapped in co-dependence. Charlotte Josephine has written this play which lays bare the ugly, fragile and chaotic nature of human connection and addiction, as our protagonists struggle to relate to each other. The scene opens with Nigel Barrett as Pops, sitting on the sofa watching TV. Sophie Melville appears in the living room, a slight and fractured soul oozing nervous energy and regret. Few words are spoken between the pair, and Pops’ response to the awkwardness is to turn up the wireless, as it competes with the television for attention.
A complex contemplation of intergenerational addiction
There’s a reticence in Melville’s character, a hesitance which hints at a sinister undercurrent. The two engage in a cycle of avoidance; he continuing to blast music and TV simultaneously; she closed off and refusing to interact on any meaningful level. There are spells when this cycle is broken – as she mentally unravels after a hard day at work; being stood up by a date; and failing at a job interview. The subtle nuances are deafening as we search for tiny clues as to why she’s failing on every level, and why he can’t seem to reach across the chasm of the unspoken to save her from herself.
Josephine’s writing is freshly innovative, and the portrayal of each character’s individual descent back into addiction is unique. Rather than the overdone stereotype of a bottle swilling, staggering drunk, Director Ali Pidsley has opted for an almost seizure-like manic episode where the addiction takes the visceral and visible form of a disentangled tape ribbon. Barrett invites Melville to dance with him, to dance the worries away – and in this moment, she is catapulted back into the clutches of her own demons.
From a performance perspective, this piece is passionate, profound and polished – Melville and Barrett inhabiting their characters consummately. The rhythm of the piece ebbs and flows, almost offering a kind of hope, which sadly comes to nothing. The writing is at times poetic, and at times stilted and stuck – echoing the nature of the addiction, and the fluttering moments of hope and despair.
My only criticism of the piece is that we aren’t given enough of the protagonists to fully relate to them. The moments of silence around the tea making scenes could possibly be better utilised by adding in more of who they are without the addiction, without the trauma and without the awkwardness. This would also render an additional layer to the ultimate sucker punch of the finale.