Last Thursday night Stuart and I went to see the UK premiere of Jeremy O. Harris's gripping, modern, and powerfully political play "Daddy" - A Melodrama at the Almeida Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.
Featuring male nudity, a gospel choir, an infinity pool (complete with towels for the first two rows of the audience), and a karaoke version of George Michael’s "Father Figure" this play depicts a corrosive relationship between a young black artist and an older white art collector. An inter-generational and inter-racial S&M relationship.
Directed by Danya Taylor, the set is a sleek visual lookalike of David Hockney’s 1971 "Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)"
The young artist Franklin is played rather wonderfully by Terique Jarrett and the creepy art collector Andre by Claes Bang. Andre has 'collected' the young African-American artist - but who is using who?
The chit-chat starts fairly lightly and continues that way as Franklin’s young friends come to hang out and swim in that inviting pool. His bestest friend, Max (John McCrea), is funny and cute, as is Franklin’s other best friend, Bellamy (Ioanna Kimbook), both of whom benefit from some smart use of costumes (by Montana Levi Blanco) and props (Love, love, love Bellamy’s giant sun hat.)
Then things change.
There is a real va-va-voom visitor, Franklin’s Mama Zora, played to the heavens by Sharlene Whyte, who is so divine she brings a small gospel choir (Rebecca Bernice Amissah, Keisha Atwell and T’Shan Williams) with her. The original vocal music and arrangements are by Darius Smith and Brett Macias and sound just like secular gospel should sound. With Zora on the scene, Mummy and Daddy can really go mano-a-mano for Franklin’s love and devotion. While these two go at it, Franklin steadily deteriorates into infancy, which manifests itself in his unlovely habit of sucking his thumb.
I won't give away the ending - it takes its time to get there (a nearly three-hour running time) - but suffice to say we had lots to talk about on the walk home.
Not a perfect play, but packed full of great ideas.