A Prayer For My Daughter

Thomas Babe

Young Vic

(2008)

Review by Philip Fisher

Put four oddballs into a room and pump them full of artificial stimulants and you might just get a result like A Prayer for My Daughter. That is a great deal of often meaningless talk, which eventually comes together as an exploration of sexual and moral ambiguities but also an oblique look at how men fail to connect with their daughters.

The first thing to say about new Traverse Artistic Director Dominic Hill's presentation of a play now thirty years old is that it is hard to imagine how the production qualities could have been bettered.

The main space at the Young Vic, cleverly lit by Bruno Poet, has been completely transformed by Giles Cadle into a thin traverse stage between two steeply-raked banks of seats.

The stage represents a tatty police office in Brooklyn of the type seen in countless police procedurals on both big and small screens. To complete this thin slice of life, the claustrophobia is represented by a dingy canopy and there are enough stairs for an Escher maze.

The authenticity is impeccable, so that you can see and almost smell the ingrained dirt that symbolises the occupants on both sides of the law when they meet on an Independence Day at some time during the 1970s,.

Thomas Babe ensures that those who respect the police will be repulsed by his play. The two hard-nosed cops are like Kojak or Starsky and Hutch but with less charm. To make matters worse, they are at least as mad as the pair of suspected murderers, with whom they play mind games during an interrogation that lasts around two and a half hours of our time or a night of theirs.

Matthew Marsh plays Kelly, a hardened, disillusioned Sergeant who gets through half a bottle of bourbon as he tries to discover which of his charges murdered an old lady. It matters to him as much it seems for the bet that he has wagered with his sidekick as the chance to bring a wrongdoer to justice. His attention is also divided when one of his daughters calls through high and with a pistol at her mouth.

His colleague, Corey Johnson's Jack, seems more normal but is overly keen to enter into theological and philosophical debate rather than solve crimes. He also enjoys an odd relationship with the criminals, sharing his heroin generously but happily trying to beat confessions out of them as well.

The suspects are something else too. Sean Chapman plays Simon (re-christened Sean by the cops for no discernible reason), the older of the two. He is a damaged Vietnam vet who would seem like a normal guy with homosexual tendencies if he did not believe that his buddy was his daughter. Worse, he also imagines himself to be some kind of guru specialising in "eclectic spiritualism".

That leaves Colin Morgan, horrifyingly realistic as Jimmy, a Latino junkie heading for an early grave but filled with weird inexplicable charm and courage.

The comedy's manic intensity and frequent passages that feel as if they are the outcome of experiments into writing, while aided by some kind of mind-expanding substances, seem heavily influenced by Sam Shepard.

The play feels dated and rather lightweight, struggling to coalesce a series of ideas into a solid story, while possibly offering an allegory on a society that Babe (and many others) felt was disintegrating as much as these unrepresentative representatives.

The good news is that A Prayer for My Daughter looks great and could not be better acted, with each man having several chances to shine. If anything, in great company, Colin Morgan creates the richest character, following up the positive impression that he made in a similar role at the same theatre in Vernon God Little.