28 March 2022
DADDY (Almeida Theatre) Review
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. It’s not often that I can’t find a single redeemable thing about a production, but looks like there’s a first time for everything…
The plot set-up could’ve lead to an interesting discussion of patronage: a young artist, an older collector… Does the latter have a genuine interest in the former (or his art) or must there always be strings attached by way of a quid pro quo? I was very hopeful for the first 2 minutes, but then things went downhill pretty quickly.
Three words that best describe this production are slow, gratuitous, and panto.
Although the full title of the play is “Daddy: A Melodrama”, this is much more of a panto than a melodrama. A young guy who sat in the front corner seat of the circle tried very hard to stop himself from screaming back at the stage. Had he not succeeded, it would’ve been panto all the way. It wasn’t just exaggerated emotions and stereotypical characters; it was simply tacky. Everything about it, in fact: from singing instead of talking (this wasn’t advertised as a musical!), everyone constantly jumping into the pool for no good reason, the [scripted] inability by the two main characters to articulate a single thought coherently… It was cringey beginning to end, and, at almost 3 hours long (albeit with interval, during which, incidentally, about 1/3 of the audience left the show), that’s simply too much eye rolling to bear. The choir with its incessant singing was possibly meant as a comic relief, but came across as pretentious and annoying.
Then there was gratuitous nudity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it when it’s required to make a point. In this case, there was none to make. The whole play takes place poolside (there is a genuine pool on stage, but this isn’t a spoiler: you’re told when booking tickets not to sit in the front 2 rows if you don’t want to get splashed). Why must the two main characters get naked to get into the pool? Hopping in with swim shorts would be in no way different, which means there is no value in it other than giving the audience and the critics some controversy to talk about. (Whist we are at it, although there is no accounting for taste, I wouldn’t call this particular instance of nudity any kind of attractive). Also, as an aside, given that every performance at Almeida I’ve ever been to had at least 50% of the audience in the 50+ age group, I’m not entirely sure why Almeida would pick this piece to begin with…
Last, but not least, there’s the acting. Claes Bang’s Andre isn’t a suave mature man with a penchant for art and young artists I expected him to be. Instead, he is a waffling, needy, annoying bore. The transition from us wondering whether he genuinely likes Franklin or is simply buying his affections to him making his intentions very clear is abrupt and lacks explanation or back story. I didn’t see this production in New York, but heard that Alan Cumming (playing Andre there) was appealing, slick, and sexy. None of these things come through in Bang’s interpretation of the character.
Terique Jarrett’s Franklin is confusing. I don’t mean confused, I do mean confusing to me, the audience member. He mumbles, he is inconsistent, the facial expressions don’t jive with the lines. He is meant to be a desirable pretty young thing, but I don’t see how anyone would want, even as boytoy, someone who is pathologically unable to make up his mind about anything or string 3 thoughts together. The acting here is a massive miss for me. Nothing about Franklin is subtle or remotely interesting.
Incidentally, with Andre written as white and Franklin as black, I expected a racial angle to the play, but didn’t find one. Sure, Franklin comes from poverty, but you could’ve just as easily had a poor white kid who’s never had two nickels to rub together. The whole play just feels overhyped.
The play is written by Jeremy O. Harris of the “Slave Play” fame. One friend of mine described the NYC production as “just great”, and another one called it “a mess”, 12 Tony nominations notwithstanding. Perhaps Harris tries to be divisive, but his writing is clearly not for me. Danya Taymor’s direction doesn’t seem to help lift the script, but makes the play more convoluted and feel infinitely longer than it needs to be (or actually is). I don’t know if it the thumb thing (so not to give it away completely) was in the script or her creation, but it’s weird (not in a good way, but in a way that makes you want to roll your eyes and walk out of show because it’s wasting your time and is going to neither entertain you nor make you think). If in the script, it could’ve been played differently; if not, then it completely unnecessary (harking back to too many things in the play being gratuitous).
The only positive thing I can say about this production is Sharlene Whyte, who plays Franklin’s mum. She is your über-stereotypical southern Bible-spouting fanatic, but she is the only one in this play who seems to make her character internally consistent.
Cheapskate enjoyment value: -£20.