Our Fathers at Battersea Arts Centre
“They fuck you up your mum and dad/They might not mean to, but they do” wrote Philip Larkin, neatly expressing the often fraught, complex relationships we hold with our parents. For Mark, Bert and Sophia it’s their fathers that are proving a problem.
Mark is in a dilemma – his late father’s friend has sent him an email asking him to consider fathering her child. Bert, his boyfriend, isn’t best pleased about this proposal, retorting silently through interpretive dance and signs baring rhetoric slogans. Meanwhile, their flatmate Sophia is trying to find a father for her own children, while the imposing presence of her overbearing Greek father looms over her.
Babakas, a Birmingham-based theatre company whose members hail from Greece, Belgium, America, Spain and the UK, have taken this very modern and potentially effusive premise, and crafted a timeless and whimsical drama. The footloose ensemble conjure their fathers to the stage using a medley of dance, physical theatre, music, film, mime, diary episodes and shadow puppetry. Retaining their own names and drawing upon their own experiences to create the piece, the cast loosely play themselves and the division between fact and fiction becomes playfully unclear. It is this along with riotous audience participation – Sophia flirts giddily with the male theatre goers, even throwing a post-coital sheet over one unwitting young man – that prescribes a sense of intimacy to the show, breaking down the fourth wall and inviting us to join their search for fatherhood.
At points Our Fathers falls into confusion. With so many techniques used the structure unravels, its central narratives lapsing into a stream of scenarios that flow away from the original plot, while questions are posed and left unanswered as we flit between a variety of artistic expressions. In addition, the huge caricature of Sophia’s father often over-eggs its comedy, becoming crass and clownish.
Despite this confusion the play touches moments of brilliance; the Skype conversation with Bert’s obdurate father, played by Bert himself, shows Mike that death is not the only thing that can separate a child from their parent. Sophia’s father’s giant silhouette shrinking down to a pint-sized black spot when he hears of his mother’s death finally allows her to be a grown up in the relationship. And Mike mirroring his father’s movements as he dances in evocative home videos at last allows him to find union with his late father amid grief.
Fathers define us in a vast host of ways, for better and for worse. They evolve in our eyes from the revered to the ridiculous to the beloved. We look to them for direction even as we rebuff their example. This charming show brimming with warm humour and poignant truth is a mature, touching, if slightly baffling, insight into the joys, pressures and responsibilities of fatherhood.
Our Fathers is at Battersea Arts Centre until 14th June 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Our Fathers here: