Raise Your Hand if you Want Dad to Die! is a title that from the off tells you so much about what you need to know. The premise is that due to medical advancements, it is now possible to swap a terminal illness from one person to another. So that’s the dilemma facing the family; debating whether dad should sacrifice himself to save mum, who has just hours to live.
It’s a great concept, especially alongside the company’s mission statement of “producing farcical, political comedy which reflects on working class stories”. And to be fair, scattered throughout are enough laugh out loud moments to suggest there is a great show to be had here. But early on it becomes all too obvious that any great show is currently hidden under too much baggage, as it tries to be too many things all at once. Merging political comedy and farce is possible. Here, though, both elements are just too weak, too obvious, to really shine. What starts promisingly ends with relief that it is over. It is a real shame as there is plenty to love if you can muddle through the excesses.
What this play really needed before it was unleashed upon an audience is someone brave enough to question some of its choices. It is beyond explanation as to why a play taking aim at the government’s handling of the NHS decided what was also required was a questionable priest with way too many references to young boys, or a medical salesman for this new wonder treatment making jokes about the daughter’s breast size and having a penchant to stealing from purses. And let’s not even mention the dodgy Health Minister, fashioned without any apology on Matt Hancock, producing gags about his affair with his advisor that have already aged badly. Basically, this play throws everything in the mix and in doing so completely loses focus on what it initially set out to be.
And that is what is most frustrating; that there is clearly a great play buried in here somewhere. The concept alone should allow for plenty of laughs and moments of enlightenment about the value of life and what you would do if given the choice to die in place of someone you love. When mum and dad, Paula and Nevin (Emma Richardson and Joshua Ford) have a moment alone to discuss the pros and cons of which of them should die, for a few minutes it is a wonderful and thoughtful play. There is discussion as to whether she has lived a full life whilst he has wasted his away, and who would make best use of more years. In that single extract you can see what this play could, should, have been. It is then ruined immediately in the next scene as their grown-up children, Roger and Tasha (James Georgiou and Rachelle Grubb) discuss how many times she got fingered by some guy. Really? Why? What is the point in such a scene? I have no problem with simple smut but here it just feels utterly out of place.
I left Theatre503 so disappointed. There were teasing glimpses of a real play trying hard to get out. But right now, we instead have a lot of screaming and shouting, dodgy priests and hackneyed jokes about Hancock having it away with his advisor. Working class stories deserve better than this.
Written by: Clare O’Flaherty
Directed by: Coral Tarran
Produced by: Maciek Zdobylak for Dad’s Not Dead Theatre Company
Raise Your Hand if you Want Dad to Die! played for two evenings as part of Theatre503’s 503Resets season.