Review: My Dad’s Gap Year, Park Theatre

My Dad’s Gap Year – already the title sounds like my idea of a nightmare. Would I want my father to go on a gap year at his ripe old age? Not really. Would I like to go on a gap year with him? Absolutely bloody not. Yet this is the premise of Tom Wright’s new play, directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair. Uptight teenager William (Alex Britt) is emotionally blackmailed by his father Dave (Adam Lannon) into spending his gap year in Thailand with him, instead of interning at his mother Cath’s (Michelle Collins) marketing firm. Sounds like a right laugh, doesn’t it? A modern family, father and son going on a gap year together. I wonder what sort of wacky capers they’ll get themselves into? And it begins as a laugh, but quickly derails into something much more sinister.

A child of divorce, William is invariably anxious. His mother is finally being selfish for once, while his father is falling completely off the wagon. It quickly emerges that Dave is an alcoholic. There are subtle signs at first, like Dave never being without a drink, but those who are familiar with the disease will spot Wright’s clues more or less immediately. The roles of parent and child are reversed, as Dave misbehaves and acts recklessly while William frantically follows him around doing damage control. Britt sweats and frets as his Dad gives him the run-around, and delivers a few great lines, like one where he describes an incident in a sauna in which he ended up “pushing past the peni”. There are other great gags, like Dave promising to get pissed and “drive a tuk tuk into the Taj Mahal”, but others fall flat or are rather cheesy, like the use of phrases like “yolo!” and “yes babe, gimme five!” It should be illegal for anyone over the age of 12 to initiate a high five. Lannon, as William’s lackadaisical father, is less expressive, and comes across as sleazy and a little monotonous.

Both men, however, meet love interests in the land of smiles. William meets obscenely good-looking Spanish/Thai lifeguard Matias (Max Percy), and Dave meets Mae (Victoria Gigante), a transgender woman, or “Thai ladyboy” to the tourists, with dreams of opening her own bar and safe space for the trans girls in Bangkok. Percy saunters around in a frankly ridiculous pair of red budgie smugglers, and helps William let loose and embrace his youth and freedom. Gigante is warm and loving as Mae who tries in vain to fix Dave, and delivers a moving monologue about her experience as a transwoman.

Collins, however, holds the piece together, and she acts naturally and with ease. Britt as William just about matches her expertise, while the others fall a little short. Wright’s script has great potential and begins funny and enjoyable, but runs too long, takes on too much, and turns too sour. There is no real resolution to Dave’s drinking problem, and Williams’ descent into addiction is skirted over. If My Dad’s Gap Year was more focused on one issue and had a stronger cast, perhaps it would feel more thorough. For now though, I think it’s bitten off more than it can chew.

My Dad’s Gap Year is playing at the Park Theatre until 23 February. For more information and tickets, see the Park Theatre website.