Pros: The seam of bitchy and self-deprecating humour that runs throughout.
Cons: The show comes across as a little unpolished and unfocused.
David Sheppeard has mined his family’s past and his own insecurities for his one man show, Hard Graft. The result is perhaps a little closer to coal than diamond, but is an amusing and occasionally thought-provoking way to spend an hour.
Sheppeard is an artist, a southerner and – I don’t think this is a massive spoiler – gay. His dad is a straight, no-nonsense chap from a small Welsh mining community. The show, and the father-son road-trip that was either made or imagined in preparation for it (never quite clear to me), is Sheppeard’s attempt to understand how the apple fell so far from the tree. Coal, mining and rural Wales feature heavily, both in the script and the visuals, because the Sheppeards were miners of old. However, Sheppeard Senior was never a miner, but a grammar school boy who worked as an electrical engineer and now lives in Poole. So the gap is not quite as wide as it first appears, and the ‘complicated relationship’ that David refers to, seems more a case of mutual incomprehension than out-and-out conflict. Mutual incomprehension is not unusual between twenty-somethings and their seventy-something relations, so while there are laughs to be had at the expense of Sheppeard Senior’s faith in exercise and activity as a cure for all ills, there is very little drama.
Sheppeard is not afraid to laugh at himself, and the show often feels like confessional stand-up. He acknowledges that he is suffering the luxury of middle-class angst and self-absorption. He plays up his own awkwardness and is very entertaining on the subject of Grindr surfing and the real man, with real worker’s muscles that he dreams of finding. Sheppeard is funniest when he is being bitchy (although fat provincials are arguably a very soft target), and when he is sending himself up. He also has a good line in aphorisms – ‘death and desire live in the forest’ – but his delivery doesn’t always do them justice. Whether it is all part of the gauche persona, or whether there is an element of improvisation, there are times when Sheppeard trips over his words, which means that good stuff doesn’t always get the timing it deserves.
The show does offer some interesting insights. A lone visit to his father’s home town of Ynysybwl helps Sheppeard to set anecdotes in context, but fails to deliver a deeper sense of connection. It is only when he travels to the town with his father that some meaning begins to emerge. A reminder of the difference between a tourist and a visitor.
So, some insights, some humour, a bit of social commentary and some pathos. But not quite enough of anything to be really compelling. This is a personal show, and David Sheppeard is a likeable performer, but it feels still like a work in progress, and one which would benefit from an outsider’s perspective. Reductive star rating notwithstanding, this is not actually a terrible show, just one that hasn’t yet reached its full potential.
Author: David Sheppeard
Producer: Faith Dodkins
Booking until: 11th April 2015
Box office: 020 7582 7680
Booking link: http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/booktickets/HardGraft