My Father and Other Superheroes at the Polka
Poet and performer Nick Makoha delights children and adults alike in this autobiographical one-man show recounting an unstable childhood spent between Africa and London. Makoha plays his younger self as well as every person who has had a role in his childhood, from teachers to superheroes. His relationship with a detached and often absent father is the central topic of his reflections. The lack of communication between the two is a debilitating reality that the young Nick deals with by substituting the conventional parental role model with superheroes.
While his parents are busy with their lives, passing him around “like a ping pong ball between countries”, fictional characters like Superman and Batman become Makoha’s mentors. Often fatherless themselves, these heroes teach him about moral strength and altruism, and he feels a strong empathy towards their sense of loneliness and alienation. He sees Superman as a kind of caring father who has taken it upon himself to ensure that the world is a safe place. Superman looks after the whole of humanity without discrimination, meaning that even lonely people like Nick are under his protective wing.
In the absence of concrete facts, Makoha uses his imagination to give his father an identity. He draws inspiration from comic books, meaning that his mental image of his father begins to merge with Batman, Spiderman or the Incredible Hulk. Each one of his favourite superheroes lends his best traits to form a more solid and favourable picture of the father-hero in his head.
The telling of this story is instigated by Makoha’s own fatherhood, which leads him to consider what it means to play such a vital role in a child’s life. His experience as a son becomes his starting point, and the birth of his daughter is an opportunity to break the cycle and repair any damage done. He resolves to bring out the hero within himself and heal his own wounds by being the father he never had.
Makoha does a superb job of holding the audience’s attention with the most basic instruments: his voice and his body. Smoke and lights are used for dramatic effect to further enhance the simple poignancy of the story, but no embellishments are required to bring alive the superheroes or the lively child. The play is, after all, about the meeting between wild imagination and a stark reality. As such, it compels the viewers to follow Nick’s example and employ their imaginative powers. Apart from dispelling negative stereotypes about fathers, this show reaffirms the magical power of storytelling.
My Father and Other Superheroes is on at Polka Theatre until 22nd March 2015, for further information or to book visit here.