Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Hard Graft: A Review - ★★★

Hard Graft by David Sheppeard
A funny and poignant solo performance about feeling close and feeling faraway from your family.
Ovalhouse: 
Wed 8 Apr – Sat 11 Apr, 8:30pm


I attended David's show on its final night at Ovalhouse, fairly unsure as to what I should expect. Set in the Upstairs venue of the theatre, the setting was close and slightly uncomfortable. The audience were, in this way, instantly involved in the theatre - on the same level as David, in his space. The play began with David scanning the audience for his father: in a show so critical of his dad, he remarks that it would be too uncomfortable for him to be here! David directly addresses the audience, establishing the real-life context to the play, and providing the audience with an insight into his story. 

David is a twenty-something man with a confusing relationship with his father. His father is portrayed as cold, difficult and not especially communicative. David suggests that the show, and his adventure to his father's hometown in South Wales is his way of trying to understand him - to connect with his dad. I thought this a real interesting idea. One of David's opening statements, 'people either have an awkward relationship with their father, or they haven't realised they do' seemed to ring true to much of the audience, provoking tentative giggling. The development of this statement into a well-considered piece about family, belonging and generational difference was engaging: it was something we all understood...to some extent. 


However, as the play developed, it seemed to me more a show about David - not his father. About insecurity and acceptance, disguised through tales relating to his father. There were moments when we felt as if we'd really been welcomed into David's world, through his thoughtful reflections on his own depression and exploring his sense of belonging in his Welsh ancestry. Unfortunately, I felt like the sincerity of this was somewhat tainted by the over-exaggeration of his sexuality. By his own admission, David is fixated on his sexuality - but the 'bitchy gay voice' interludes and Grindr train scene was all a bit too much, a bit too cliché and seemingly irrelevant (particularly since there was no sense that his homosexuality affected his relationship with his dad). 


David made great use of a difficult space, moving between a lecture-like address, to train seats - mirroring his journey to South Wales, to a clever map which he created on the floor. The movement around the room and the different addresses kept the audience engaged, and allowed for the smooth flow of moods and revelations in the piece. The curious construction of the map was a really nice addition, showing the physicality of David's familial belonging alongside his vocal and emotional projections of it. 


Ultimately, I enjoyed the play. An hour long solo piece is no easy feat, and David kept me interested and involved for the entirety of the play. I'm not sure I'm convinced by the supposed focus on family and father-son relationships, and instead saw the theme to be reflective of a personal sense of exclusion and complex identity (be it familial or otherwise) - which made elements of the play feel like slightly odd tangents. But overall, it was accessible and entertaining - and I left thinking about where I belong, as part of my family, but also as part of a wider existence. 




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