The Play About My Dad

According to its author, Loo Killebrew, The Play About My Dad “should feel quick-moving, and hopefully have a rhythm that is similar to the rhythm of a storm.” That hope is in vain as far as this Jermyn Street Theatre production is concerned. Rather, it is something of a grey day in which the sun occasionally peeps out from behind the clouds.

As an exercise in meta-drama it is certainly worth seeing

Ostensibly the plays deals with the impact on people’s lives of Hurricane Katrina. Situations revolve around various groups of people. Rena (Annabel Bates), Jay (Joel Lawes) and Michael (T’jai Adu-Yeboah) form the Thomas family of mother, father and son respectively. They have decided to stay in their house rather than evacuate and are now having to deal with the consequences. Also sitting it out is Essie Watson (Miquel Brown) who lived to tell the story of Hurricane Camille in 1969 and sees no reason to make way for Katrina in 2005. Meanwhile two emergency medical technicians, Kenny Dyson (Ammar Duffus) and Neil Plitt (Nathan Welsh), pass their shift in an ambulance, refusing to abandon their post even as the waters rise around them. The Killebrew family form the final group. Larry Killebrew (David Schall) is a doctor working in the local hospital. His ex wife, Sallye Killebrew (Juliet Cowan), is still hanging around the area but their daughter, Boo Killebrew (Hannah Britland), is in New York; at least while the storm is raging.

This is where a straightforward narrative becomes more complex. Boo Killebrew, wants to write about Katrina. One storyline deals with how she achieves this, casting her real father as her acted father with whom she negotiates the script of the play as it progresses. Hence, they step into and out of their roles in the main play, in which they play themselves, while being their other real selves in the construction of it. A second story, of the rift that ensued between father and daughter following the divorce, weaves its way into the main story. Given that ‘traveling through time is something else that is explored in this play’ characters play themselves at various ages and drift into and out of each other’s stories. If this sounds complicated it’s because it is, although once the show is up and running and the formula is understood it’s not difficult to follow.

There’s a lot for director Stella Powell-Jones to achieve in this play and only occasionally does any flair show through. Both Charlotte Espiner’s set and Ali Hunter’s lighting design remain faithful to the script’s directions, creating in turn a flexible performance area and mood changes. Dialect coach Nick Trumble faced what appears to be an impossible task. There are moments when voices relate to some generic US location, but overall there is neither uniformity nor authenticity in the accents and certainly nothing approaching the sounds of Mississippi. Failure on this front is both irritating and distracting. In the Thomas family T’jai Adu-Yeboah provides a touching performance as he conveys the young boy’s innocence and growing fear. Joel Lawes, however, gives a mumbling portrayal of the father that is seriously at odds with the strength of his words. If ‘the character of Boo should be the one moving the set pieces’ then Hannah Britland is far too understated. A similar lack of energy is found in David Schall’s father, although he is faintly amusing and suitably inept is his role as the newcomer to acting

Salvation is found in the delightful storytelling of Miquel Brown. With a credible accent she charts the lives of other characters and warmly tells her own stories. It’s left largely to Nathan Welsh and particularly Ammar Duffus to keep the play moving. With probably the best-written parts of the script and something like the sound of southern boys, their scenes of wit and repartee keep the show moving and add some much-needed life and pace to the production.i

The Play About My Dad represents the triumph of structure over substance. With the exception of perhaps one slight twist, what happens is predictable. As an exercise in meta-drama it is certainky worth seeing, but it is perhaps too clever for its own good.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

It’s not easy putting on a play. It’s even harder when your dad is the lead character, he’s playing himself, and even though you’re the professional playwright and he’s the emergency surgeon, he keeps trying to rewrite your script. After Hurricane Katrina swept through her home town, Boo was determined to write a play about it. But she never imagined it would be this hard…

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