Sparkplug

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Written and Performed by David Judge

Directed by Hannah Tyrell-Pinder

A Box of Tricks production

Sparkplug had its World premiere on Valentines day when we celebrate idealized love. This new work by David Judge is a true celebration of the complexity of love, race and family. At times tender and compassionate, it also bravely highlights personal experience of the achingly painful racist abuse that is still so ingrained in such a multi-cultural city as Manchester. This is a story of imperfect people in difficult circumstances whose bonds of love are built on something stronger than genetics or skin colour.

This is a very personal story from writer and actor David Judge drawing on his own experience of growing up with a white Mum and Dad from Wythenshawe while being the genetic son of a black man from Moss Side. Judge vividly invokes the family life of his father Dave as a young man driving his Capri around South Manchester while listening to Rod Stewart and dreaming of a relationship with his sister Angela’s best friend Joanne. The love affair that unfolds is messy but very real. Boy gets the girl but she is pregnant with someone else’s baby. The new parents struggle like any new parents but with the added difficulty of being white parents with a brown baby in a community where even grandparents can’t stand the skin he sleeps in. Add an eventual relationship breakdown, the news that Joanne is in a lesbian relationship and that the overwhelmed parents ask their child to choose which parent he stays with. High drama indeed but also the grittiness of real people in real situations that are complex and unsanitised.

David Judge is wonderful to watch, he brings grace and delicacy to the poetry of this piece, while being equally able to make an audience palpably uncomfortable with the racism and homophobia that run through the veins of this story. He has a quicksilver ability to move between characters, each vividly drawn and instantly recognisable. The staccato delivery of words used like punches in a scene of rage, frustration and despair sit alongside the tenderness of a young man’s love for his son that is never shaken by the ignorance in his local community.

The set design by Katie Scott works really well. The bones of a car come alive to create a sense of eras in this family as the vehicle morphs from Capri to Fiat 126 to Sierra and back. The garage settings evokes the memories of family history complete with childhood toys and its soundtrack of Rod Stewart and Micheal Jackson encapsulate that home in Wythenshawe a world away from Moss Side.

Overall this is a really impressive production. I saw Judges’ performance as Pete in The Kitchen Sink at Oldham Coliseum last year and it was really memorable so it’s a pleasure to see him centre stage. As a play it flows well though would benefit from a little editing and more character clarity towards the end. Overall it is a production that sparks debate about identity and how we see ourselves and how that is impacted by those around us. What stayed with me after the the show was the strong bond between young men and their cars, how perhaps we freely choose identity through the car we drive rather than how we are often shoehorned into an identity by the skin we walk in.

HOME 13-23 February 2019

Tour details

Images by Alex Mead, Decoy Media

The Kitchen Sink

Oldham Coliseum Theatre

Written by Tom Wells

Directed by Chris Lawson

The Kitchen Sink has a warm rich vein of humour with a steady flow of lively banter and acerbic quips. This is an undoubtedly upbeat take on some serious kitchen sink dramas. This is an Everyman, everyday family dealing with financial worries, plumbing woes; and managing disappointment, frustration, fear and grief. The kids are in flux as they try to find their place as adults. Dad is stubbornly clinging to a past that has no place in the future or even in the present. Mum is chucking lifebuoys to all and sundry in the shape of courgette muffins. In this scene of adversity there is also buckets of love and empathy. The Kitchen Sink is for everyone who has felt like screaming in their kitchen and it is an infectious reminder that we could be up on the kitchen table and dancing and singing along to Dolly Parton.

The staging works really well and Anna Reid’s design conveys the shabby family kitchen in need of a complete overhaul. The faded oranges and beiges of this utilitarian kitchen are brought alive by the people who inhabit this room as in so many homes. The wonky Christmas tinsel and Billy’s incongruous portrait of Dolly Parton are the little touches that make this home unique. The lighting is clever as each scene changes in muted semi darkness as family life continues to ebb and flow with a steady heartbeat of home and hearth.

The family are Northern working class with Kath, a feisty Mother who works two low paid jobs and yearns for change and rails against stagnating in a place that is a good place to come from, but not a good place to end up. Sue Devaney plays Kath with an infectious energy which never dims. She works hard at family, at work and in life but she is never a martyr but instead retains a kittenish, playfulness whether stripping off unto a newspaper or casually savouring her first spliff. There are moments where I wished the laughter dialled down a little to allow more space for her heartfelt plea for just a tiny change without the World ending. The poignancy and tenderness in the scene in which Kath has made the buffet for Pete’s Gran’s funeral is a joy to watch. The simple compassion of a Mother who loves to “mother” being “Mother” to the bereaved and orphaned Pete.

William Travis provides a dour, slightly gloomy Martin who is a good foil to wife Kath. Initially they seem ill- matched as her sunny playful nature seems at odds with his downbeat gruffness. Yet the moments of real laughter between the two shine as their strong emotional connection is evident. This is marriage at its best- there is humour, forbearance, compassion and earthy attraction. They may have a barely half-filled jar of 20 pences as savings security but they have a fortune in a rock solid union.

The children are less richly drawn. Billy played with great sweetness by Sam Glen, is ill equipped for Art College in London where his heartfelt homage to Dolly Parton is greeted as “kitsch” and “cool”. His warm and affectionate relationship with his mother is spontaneous and full of horseplay which belies the more awkward one with his father. This is a home where children are undoubtedly loved but where an artistic, gay and slightly diffident son is slightly held at arms length by a father who struggles to relate to him. Sophie played by Emily Stott is barbed wire brittle and is clearly a wounded soul. Her Mother senses something is wrong and Sophie is clearly very close to her father yet no one seems able, or dares to probe too deeply. Perhaps in every family the dark stuff lying at the bottom of the U- bend is avoided where possible. Like the makeshift mends on the kitchen sink until it finally erupts and make do and mend is no longer an option.

The most finely drawn character is Pete the young plumber and would-be suitor to Sophie. David Judge delivers a beautiful performance full of awkward grace and sensitivity. The quiet resilience and steadfast devotion to those he loves is a study in grace and gentleness. Despite or because of his own losses, he is the only one to really see Sophie’s pain and try to help her. This play subtly highlights how children can be loved and valued but sometimes “missed” in the business of making ends meet with multiple jobs or unsociable working hours.

The Kitchen Sink is filled with the music of Dolly Parton. This is a soundtrack full of songs bursting with energy and poignant, heartfelt melodies- a perfection reflection of this family at this particular kitchen sink. In the ladies loos after the show both cubicles were engaged with girls singing Dolly at the top of their voices!! I’m not a country music lover but I’ve been playing her all week. Small changes. Thanks Kath!! As the character says I got on the Circle Line in the wrong direction- Nothing happened- I just sat it out. This play has an ask for all of us. Do we want to sit it out or get off and go a different direction and see what happens.

At Oldham Coliseum

Fri 9 – Saturday 24 February 2018