Uplifting without being smothered in sugar and warm without being fuzzy – Richard Marsh’s poetic, comic two-hander about mums, dads, babies and everything in between is a properly lovely piece of theatre. Poignant, funny and well observed, it’s a good reminder that meaningful doesn’t have to mean unremittingly miserable.
No sooner has ‘Richard’ said goodbye to one parent – his mum’s just died of cancer – he’s forced to say hello to another: the father who left his wife and son nearly 20 years earlier. After turning up at the hospital, ‘Dad’ shows no signs of going. Meanwhile, a drunken shag in a disabled toilet with Bridgitte from work has led to pregnancy. Is Richard really ready to be a father when he can’t stand his own?
There’s a definite sense of (presumably real-life) events being massaged into position here; mishaps with powdered milk and episodes of father and son bath-sharing being shaped and channelled. But this never feels dishonest, because Marsh writes so skilfully and intelligently. He places himself in the audience and avoids the risky self-indulgence of straightforward autobiography.
And, as directed by Justin Audibert, Marsh captures perfectly what he describes as “man and boy, mid-air” – that anxiety about whether we’re ever really ready for adulthood when destination ‘Grown-Up’ appears on the horizon. The anger, petulance and self-doubt that comes with wrestling with your past is all here, painted in brilliant colours. And while it’s always entertaining, it’s often also unsparingly true.
And what makes it really spring to life is the lovingly observed, sitting-room poetry of Marsh’s verse. He spins sharp, sometimes fantastically funny imagery out of everyday life – delving equally into the cupboards, hospital wards and petty jealousies. From rooms that look like “Laura Ashley had angry sex with Cath Kidston” to a baby resembling “a crying crouton in poo soup” it’s wonderful.
Marsh himself – as both narrator and player – is an unaffected, understated performer, imbuing ‘Richard’ with an endearing mix of wryness and obliviousness. He’s genuinely moving in the scenes when his frustration and hurt spill out. And his characterisation of a frequently exasperated Bridgitte evokes Nessa from Gavin & Stacey in its no-nonsense Welshness.
As Dad, Jerome Wright has the most difficult role. And with the exception of a well-timed scene of mutual conciliation towards the end, when Marsh hands over the poetry, it’s largely because of his funny, touching performance that we are able to see through Richard’s scathing words to this aged likely lad’s own struggle with who he is now.
The pair make for a great double-act – insulting each other while clearly needing each other at the same time. Their funny, believable relationship, two reluctant wingmen fractiously reconciling across the distance of years, gives this show both its hurt and its big heartedness.