The Theatre Centre in association with Glynis Henderson Productions
Battersea Arts Centre
Monsters don't always appear as monsters. That’s the way it is with the father who talks to us in the unsettling monologue Daughter.
Back in 2018, when it was performed at the Edinburgh festival, you would regularly find people fiercely debating it. “Go see it” was the general view, which outraged others who seemed to think it shouldn't even be shown. I suspect both sides had mixed feelings about the play. Not that any of this stopped it selling out.
The young father, given a remarkably engaging performance by Adam Lazarus, is initially someone it is easy to like. He is the proud father of a child he plays with wearing butterfly wings and a headband. He tells us of her birth in considerable detail, of the preparation, of the birth doula (birthing coach) and the tense moments of anxiety in the labour ward. Everything is told with humour, with gentleness, as if he is sharing something special with trusted friends. The audience warmed to the stories, laughed, nodded sympathetically with expressions of recognition. He is keen to make these connections, this new age dad we might all admire. He could be one of us.
But then, some way into the play, things get more ambiguous, more troubling. He admits that being a parent is stressful and, with a look of sadness, recalls nights when he couldn't sleep for his daughter constantly waking him, till on one occasion he very forcibly pushed her back on to her mattress. “Are you okay with with that?” he asks, making it clear he wants us to respond. Most say no, a few say yes and someone at the front says “yes and no.” He insists he is not okay with what he did.
That is how things go. Like a group of friends who have shared a special intimacy, we are encouraged to listen with increasing horror to his admissions of having watched, but not liked, pornographic videos where women scream in pain and his moments of violence towards others, including a sixteen-year-old girl who called him “a pussy”. As the lights darken, he becomes truly frightening.
What we see is a warning against complacency, even when the man seems likeable, seemingly admirable, the kind of person who might be in the audience. But here is where some of the reservations come in.
Hasn't the show been unfairly making the audience feel they are in some way complicit, some way part of the problem? Just because they laughed with him, they nodded in recognition at those early stories, and might even have felt like inviting him round for tea, it doesn't mean they would ever turn a blind eye to the danger, ignore the problems he was having with women.
Yet someone did in the decades when Meryl Streep was cheered at the Golden Globe awards when she called Harvey Weinstein a God. And every three days in the UK when another woman is murdered by her partner, did no one see it coming?
I still have mixed feelings about this play, but I recognise the brilliance of the production and the importance of its uncomfortable message. Go see it.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna