It is sometimes said that girls grow up to be their mothers, but where do their fathers come in? In Daddy Drag, Leyla Josephine introduces us to her drag persona ‘Daddy’. The show first seems a lighthearted, riotous drag king act exploring stereotypes of fatherhood. Yet gradually it peels back layers of performance and skin to explore Josephine’s conflicting feelings about her relationship with her father. The performance captures the slow accretion of Josephine’s disappointment in growing up and realising the ways in which her dad fell short at fatherhood.
Josephine’s ‘Daddy’, dressed in his vest, pants and tartan dressing gown, wanders bemusedly through the audience. ‘Who left that light on?’ he barks in a heavy Glaswegian accent. ‘Was it you?’ He stares down each of the front row in turn. ‘What’s the show about, then?’ he asks. ‘Dads’, someone finally volunteers. Daddy launches into a very catchy rap enumerating all different kinds of dads, including ‘good dads, daft dads, absent dads, dads who wear slogan t-shirts, dads who do the washing up’. ‘You can call me Daddy’, he intones, spelling out the word like a lecherous cheerleader.
Jennie Loof’s living room set has been rigged with surprises to enable DIY scenic transformations. Daddy’s favourite past-time is fishing and he collars a man from the audience to join him onstage, sitting on the sofa and swigging from cans of beer, as they trail fishing rods into a lake painted on the bottom of the rug. ‘Fishing. Is there anything better?’ he says wistfully, again and again and again. He hosts a ‘wee BBQ’ from a transformed cocktail cabinet, distributing sausages to the audience with a nudge and a wink, flirting shamelessly.
Though Josephine’s skewering of dad jokes and dad dancing are hilarious, they do start to grate through repetition – which might be the point. The Daddy persona comes to seem a kind of armour, constantly performing masculinity and fending off serious conversations. Who is this man? How much of a relation does he bear to Josephine’s own father?
An alternative perspective is conveyed through recordings of interviews with Josephine’s mum and herself; their voices sound so similar that they often blend, Josephine repeating her mother’s words. They draw out the more personal and more troubling resonances of the character Daddy’s behaviour. Josephine’s Mum recounts how, when she was pregnant, she watched her husband flirt with every single woman at a wedding. As the show is not driven by narrative, it can feel like some of the connections between Josephine and her father are only hinted at rather than fully explored, such as a glimpse of a potential kinship through a mutual interest in drag. Yet this gives the performance a lightness of touch.
It is when Josephine herself confronts her Daddy persona that the show shifts from comedy to something genuinely moving. She powerfully unpicks her own performance. No more excuses, no more hero worship, no more jokes. How do you grapple with the legacy of someone close to you when you know they weren’t always a good person? What remains and what do you choose to remember? In the performance’s final section, she strips back the layers of her Daddy drag, perfectly capturing the equivocal nature of grief.
Daddy Drag is on at Summerhall till 25th August. More info here.