A thrilling opening brims with potential – bold, brassy movie music plays as the curtain rises to reveal a breathtaking set – but the plot struggles to develop once its major players and premise are in place, and the script gives way to narcissistic, repetitious proclamations.
Daddy at the Almeida. Sharlene Whyte, Terique Jarrett and Ioanna Kimbook. Photo: Marc Brenner
Franklin (Terique Jarrett, more on him later) is the only three-dimensional character in this trippy, frustrated drama, where everyone is caught up in a conflict between simply enjoying the material riches of their surroundings and pursuing a deeper quest for happiness. Andre (an appropriately frightening Claes Bang) wants to own Franklin’s beauty, as if he were a work of art. So begins an abusive play of power, with Andre and Franklin adopting the creepy nicknames ‘daddy’ and ‘son’ for one another, and Andre’s behaviour becoming increasingly controlling.
Enter Bellamy (Ioanna Kimbook, The Duchess of Malfi) and Max (John McCrea, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie), two balls of energy and friends of Franklin, whose simultaneous jealousy and wariness of his situation adds some perspective. Franklin’s equally suspicious mother Zora (Sharlene Whyte, bringing the show’s humour) comes to the rescue too, but can she lure him away from his adoptive, glamorous lifestyle?
Aside from Franklin, each character’s objectives are set by the end of the first act and fail to develop over the remaining 90-minutes. Instead, the same points are rehashed on a loop, in particular Andre’s desire to possess Franklin and his mother’s need to protect him.
Daddy at the Almeida. Rebecca Bernice Amissah, T'Shan Williams, Claes Bang, Terique Jarrett and Keisha Atwell. Photo: Marc Brenner
Designer Matt Saunders’ set is the most successfully melodramatic – or ‘extra’, as Franklin’s Gen Z pals might say – thing about the production. A functioning swimming pool (yes, really!) casts rippling reflections onto the exterior of Andre’s monied, minimalist Bel Air property, making impressive use of the Almeida’s compact stage. Scenes rotate between the pool (where characters wade or dive in, sometimes naked, other times fully clothed), a trio of sun loungers and an art-strung room behind a set of glass doors that overlooks the pool, with every life-like detail coloured in.
The other big triumph is Jarrett’s performance as Franklin, whose initial excitement at winding up in a millionaire’s lair we watch dissolve into internal conflict and later, a hyperventilating, head-banging nervous breakdown. Yet his blink-and-you’ll-miss-them winks and smiles at the audience suggest an alternative plot, whereby the whole unlikely scenario is a figment of his imagination. Similarly, while watching an older white man violently dominate a younger black man is uncomfortable for obvious reasons, the melodramatic manifestations of Andre’s affections – we see him cling to Franklin while spouting his inner desires – also suggest we’re watching a skewed account of events.
Daddy at the Almeida. T'Shan Williams, Sharlene Whyte (background), Terique Jarrett and Rebecca Bernice Amissah. Photo: Marc Brenner
The problem is, “Daddy” pushes the genre until it becomes a farce of a melodrama, one with ill-fitting explosions of karaoke-style singing and clichéd moments that on press night inspire the audience to call out, panto style. Its bold experimentation should be admirable, but scenes like the exploration of Franklin’s daddy issues, with Bang adopting the latent voice of Franklin’s father, seem underdeveloped.
Still, there are moments of ingenuity. The three-strong gospel choir who, after accompanying Zora’s answerphone message to her son, linger on stage like a Greek chorus, are a surreal but inspired addition.
Harris’s talent as a writer shines brightest in a series of soliloquies, such as Franklin reflecting on his relationship with his father and Zora expressing her concerns for him. They’re poetic and profound, but get lost within the fluffy repetition.
“Daddy” A Melodrama plays out like a quadruple bill of a dull soap opera, but Saunders’ set and Jarrett’s performance are worth the ticket price.
|What||“Daddy” A Melodrama, Almeida Theatre review|
|Where||Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street, Islington, London, N1 1TA | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Highbury & Islington (underground)|
26 Mar 22 – 30 Apr 22, Performances at 7pm with additional 1pm matinees
|Price||£10 - £48.50|
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|