Babakas’s interdisciplinary performance Our Fathers, an exploration of fatherhood encompassing dance, audience interaction and live music, was originally conceived by the company during a research residency in Athens and subsequently developed over two arts festivals. The product on show at the Warwick Arts Centre this week is a commission from Warwick University’s Centre for the History of Medicine, with both performances followed by a panel discussion on fatherhood hosted by the show’s historical consultant Dr Laura King.
Our Fathers, directed by Juan Ayala and Mike Tweddle, is an ensemble piece devised and performed by Tweddle and two other actors, Sofia Paschou and Bert Roman. Drawn from the actors’ personal experience and relationship with their fathers, the boundary between fiction and reality is somewhat blurred. The cast conjure their fathers onstage through a series of “diaries, Super 8, speed-dates and dreams” – that is comedic audience interaction, media projection and some accomplished but rather incomprehensible dance. Whilst these elements are for the most part imaginative and cohesive, there are some bizarre moments, such as Roman holding up a series of placards with slogans, some of which can be related to the themes of the piece, and some that cannot: “The world you’ve given us is broken”, reads one, followed inexplicably by the Wilde-ism “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars”.
The overall structure of the piece is similarly unclear; what begins as narrative quickly lapses into a stream of vignettes that fail to address the play’s original conflict, and broad questions are posed but not answered in any depth. After receiving an email from a family friend asking for help to conceive a child, Tweddle begins to consider his own father (deceased), inspiring Roman to enact conversations with his estranged and disapproving father. Paschou, meanwhile, assesses the male audience members’ suitability for fatherhood and is inundated with phone-calls from her own overprotective father, shown only as a shadow behind a screen. The insights offered by these three stories are compelling, but despite (or perhaps because of) the personal subject matter, none of the actors manage to inject much emotion into the piece. Similarly, Tweddle and Roman play a couple, but even if this is so in reality they do not bring any chemistry to their onstage relationship.
That said, it is an enjoyable and thought-provoking evening (especially the post-show panel), though in its current form the piece fails to move and is prone to slight pretentiousness. “Those who lack imagination”, one of Roman’s placards reads, “cannot imagine what is lacking”; Our Fathers certainly demonstrates imagination in its staging and scope, but emotional depth and narrative coherence are lacking.
Our Fathers played at the Warwick Arts Centre on the 12/13 June. For more information and further shows, see the Warwick Arts Centre website.