Friday, 26 April 2013

Review: Me and Me Dad. Reform Theatre Company.

Me and Me Dad is written by Nick Lane, writer of Housebound and My Favourite Summer and performed at the Derby Guildhall (on tour) by a talented cast of three by the Reform Theatre Company. The show originally started life through the Hull Truck Theatre Company though its programme and practice of developing promising writers and encouraging new theatre pieces.

The story of Me and Me Dad begins just after Dave’s mum dies and Dave has to make a decision about what to do for the best. Like many family units, Dave’s mum always did the cooking in the family household and was very good at it. On the death of his wife, Pete, Dave’s dad, suddenly finds he has no idea how to cook. He may be inept and ignorant in the kitchen, but he’s not stupid. In fact, like his son, he is very likeable but this is going to be one long grind in the kitchen. So, putting his failing acting career on hold for a month, Dave returns home to look after his father, primarily to teach him how to cook. Well, that’s the theory, anyway. Playwright Nick Lane mines an emotionally rich seam of a very personal story and the play tackles an even more difficult and individualised subject than that of unrequited love that fed the prequel, My Favourite Summer. This time round the characters of Dave and his father are discovering how to fend for themselves, a loss of their own identities and how a young man can suddenly be forced to be a parent to his parent. Built into the story is the notion of the fear of getting things wrong, for all parties.

The two male leads are brilliantly and realistically played by David Walker as Pete and Ryan Cerenko as his frustrated son, Dave. Walker brings the husband and father who cannot let go of his dead wife poignantly to life and, to quote his son, “hovers around like a moth in shoes”. This character is no cardboard cut-out dad figure. Nick Lane has created a wonderfully believable character in Pete Lee, a man full of human variety; from obstinate to silly and full of lovable characteristics, even if very much set in his ways. Even his constant farting is somehow endearing.

Cerenko has the task of carrying the play through narration and acting out the often frustrating journey of the son in his mid-twenties. He is often subtly put down by his father and by the mad neighbour Joyce (Susan Mitchell) who treats him as if he is still a small boy. Cerenko carries this role off to perfection, instantly likeable as Dave, a character full of fluctuating confidence, one minute confident of his ability to teach his dad to cook and the next confused and hurt by his dad’s actions especially when his father tries to chat up his girlfriend, Susie.

The ragged jigsaw of a set, the family home, looks as blown apart as the family unit. As the play opens fine dust is rising in the living room as father and son are left alone to cope on the day of the funeral. It looks as if an emotional bomb has gone off but miraculously the furniture and the two estranged men are still standing.

The acting and direction are superb throughout but the acting honours must go to Susan Mitchell who plays the three female roles of Jean, the late departed mum and wife; Joyce, a loud and batty neighbour and terrible cook; and Susie the confidently brash girlfriend of Dave. As time flits back and forth throughout the play Mitchell inhabits each role to perfection: the caring and softly spoken mother Jean, very emotionally strong near the end in a tear jerking scene. Mitchell then becomes Aunty Joyce – a loud but well-meaning neighbour who cooks for and secretly fancies Pete and finally, as a complete transformation, we have the girlfriend Susie, smart, sassy, sexy and somewhat manipulative.

The dialogue is funny, touching, occasionally emotionally raw and judiciously uses a clever technique of two characters saying the same line in unison to reinforce the notion of family bonds. There are good displays of emotive bonding and the very believable cast’s chemistry works well to create a very engaging and rewarding evening at the theatre.

Me and Me Dad is directed by Keith Hukin

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews website 25th April 2013

Review by Phil Lowe.

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