My last live show before lockdown was Daughter at the Battersea Arts Centre, an intense affair about toxic masculinity and parenthood. From Me to Us, presented online from the same venue, is the polar opposite, yet somehow made me think back to that uncomfortable show. But where Daughter is about a man unfit to be a father, From Me to Us is about a man who dreams of just having the chance of becoming one. The other major difference between the two shows? From Me to Us is all entirely true.
Our want-to-be father is writer and actor Wayne Steven Jackson. From the off, he informs us that “this story is incomplete”. It is a letter half-written to a person yet to be born. That person is the child that Jackson hopes he will soon have via surrogacy, something that only became possible following the slightest of amendments in legislation in 2019. Before that it was an impossible dream. As a single man, he was exempt from having a child via surrogacy; the law simply wouldn’t recognise him. As he points out quite bluntly, being gay and single really were two major hurdles in his way until that time.
Filmed in an empty theatre, the emptiness and ghostly silence almost feels in context: it’s the silence in his life he surely feels as he yearns to have a child, a child who would no doubt break the silence. Like the theatre, the stage is almost empty too, bare except for a rack of shirts, and a table with a typewriter and a plain box sitting upon it. From there, Jackson leads us through how the law changed; just the smallest change, but one that finally allowed for single men to be recognised as the parent in the event of surrogacy.
Visually there is plenty to keep your attention. Jackson switches from talking directly to the audience, microphone in hand, to sitting at the table typing that letter, his words heard via a voiceover. It is then interspaced with short, filmed elements, taking us away from the stage and into Jackson’s home, a park, a supermarket. Together all these elements run smoothly, no jarring edges to break our attention in the way a sharp edge does actually cut his imaginary child. All these filmed intelludes are fragments and experiences from Jackson’s mind. Or maybe they are something more?
The soft background music from Chris Benstead adds beautifully to the calmness that Jackson spreads as he talks. That soundtrack is ever present, almost unnoticed, but it does add to the whole serenity that you feel Jackson would have as a father.
As the show draws to its incomplete ending, as the reason for the title of the show is creatively revealed, Jackson finally opens that box on the table to take out the single object within. It’s a moving and poignant moment, and one that will surely bring a tear to the eye of many.
Come that emotional end, it’s strange that I still cast my mind back to Daughter and what it revealed about toxic parenting. It is so clear that Jackson would not be that father, he would be one any child would love, as he would give his love back in return. Why it took until 2019 for that to become a possibility is surely criminal in itself.
Created by: Wayne Steven Jackson
Videography by: Ben Horrigan for Studio 91 Media
From Me to Us is streaming online as part of BAC’s Wild Times season. It is available via BAC between 10 and 16 May, before transferring to Norwich Arts Centre (17 – 23 May) and Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield (31 May – 6 June). BAC tickets are pay what you can, with a suggested price of £6. Full details via the below link.