Reviews Edinburgh Fringe 2019 Published 11 August 2019

Edinburgh fringe review: Pops by Charlotte Josephine

“Silence. And tea”: Emily Davis responds to Charlotte Josephine’s precise portrayal of a father-daughter relationship.

Emily Davis

Sophie Melville and Nigel Barrett in ‘Pops’. Designed by Bethany Wells. Photo: The Other Richard

Every day, Nigel Barrett’s character in ‘Pops’ watches Come Dine with Me.

‘I love this.’

‘It’s everyday’

‘I like it!’

And suddenly, they’re not talking about the telly anymore.

Charlotte Josephine’s play depicts an alcoholic father and daughter reuniting. She is getting clean and needs somewhere to stay. She promises it’s temporary and she’ll get out from under his feet. He says, nervously, ‘It’s the least I could do’.

‘It’s the least I could do’ is not something fathers say to their daughters when they move back home. It’s something your next door neighbour says when they water your plants. It’s this super subtle detail in Josephine’s text that puts me on edge, and speaks to the invisible monster that stands there between them.

You get the sense, watching this play, that this is a writer-director-actor combination where they all inherently understand each other’s craft.

Director Ali Pidsley ‘does awkward’ without any of those annoying things plays sometimes do when they want to let you know that a situation is awkward, like hand-wringing gestures or saying ‘this is awkward’. Pops does awkward by watching TV standing up. He does awkward by having the radio play over the TV to fill the silence.

The writing, directing and design of this play is all so completely PRECISE and delicate. If you’re there for it, if you’re engaged, there are moments of absolute magic. At the play’s volte-face, Sophie Melville sits on her dad’s chair, and suddenly looks like she’s 15 years younger. After a constant undercurrent of repeated music, we suddenly have silence. And tea.

We think for a moment that they might reach across the gulf between them. They have one of those conversations where you’re clinging onto the temporary peace, and you carefully only utter phrases that the other person wants to hear, or that they’ll agree with. A temporary, doomed cycle of affirmation.

‘Fuck the tories.’

‘Yeah, fuck the tories’

This is also the first play I’ve ever seen to portray alcoholism in a way that didn’t want to make me gouge my eyes out. I hate ‘drunk acting’ so much. Tell me you haven’t cringed at every well-meaning show which takes great pains to point out a gasp hip flask on stage! Or a well meaning RADA graduate acting out their character’s Downward Spiral, aided by a label-less whisky bottle and some exaggerated staggering before yelling something at the sky.

Pops deals in metaphor, and finds new ways to embody the nature of the beast. A bottle never appears on stage, there’s no slurring, no weird stumbling around with glasses half full of Ribena or watered down coke.

Instead, we are given rhythm. Something hangs in the air, in the silence. In the lack of silence. In the same song being played for half the show. You can feel them itching towards the beats, wanting to slip back into the old routine.

A father asks his daughter to dance with him.

‘Dance with me, it’ll be a laugh.’

Her feet start to tap, her limbs shaking desperately.

You want the same thing. You want it everyday.

Repeated. The same song, over and over.

Hiya love, come and sit down

Hiya love, come and sit down

Hiya love, come and sit down

The rhythm accelerates, a breathless, relentless, sorrysorrysorrysorrysorry.

Oh, I think.

Now I understand.

Pops is on at Assembly as part of the 2019 Edinburgh fringe. More info and tickets here

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Emily Davis is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Edinburgh fringe review: Pops by Charlotte Josephine Show Info


Produced by Jake Orr

Directed by Ali Pidsley

Written by Charlotte Josephine. Sound Design: Kieran Lucas. Movement: Jennifer Jackson

Cast includes Nigel Barrett, Sophie Melville

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