Deftly dovetailing a deliciously droll disposition with a daringly dramatised dialogue on domestic difference and dynastic diversity, Jordan Waller’s dazzling The D Word is dynamic, delicate, direct and definitely something you should go and see.
This uproariously funny and yet startlingly tender one-man show is an autobiographical account of Waller’s experiences growing up as the gay son of a lesbian couple, whose biological father is an anonymous sperm donor. The first half of the performance, in which Waller introduces us to the central characters in his childhood, feels more or less like being submerged in a warm bubbly tempest of rampant wittiness. From “The New Testament is basically just Queer Eye for straight men with fewer miracles” to “I’m a modern man: I eat hummus and suck cock”, the sudden waves of irreverent comedy crash relentlessly over our heads before we even see them coming, never quite allowing us to catch our breath.
The second half is far more contemplative but equally wonderful. Waller poignantly reenacts his pursuit of information about his biological father and his attempts to come to terms with bereavement. In doing so, the production weaves an intensity and gravity into its light-hearted opening, creating an astonishingly vivid and honest portrayal of so many of the issues at the heart of modern life. Sexuality, masculinity, belonging, loss, how we define our family and, indeed, what exactly family means, are among the central themes brought majestically to life. From holding the hand of his (non-birth) mother as she takes her final breaths, to struggling to ejaculate in the detached setting of a sperm donation clinic, Waller’s performances never fail to be touching in every sense of the word.
All this is rendered even more impressive by the fact that such an enchanting production uses little more than one man, a box and a projector (mainly utilised to display pictures from The Endykelopedia, a cutting-edge study of lesbian identity really compiled by Waller’s eleven-year-old self). That the show continually transports its audience so eloquently to such a wide range of scenes, despite its simple setup, is testament to director Max Gill as well as Matthew Swithinbank’s fabulously atmospheric lighting.
At the core of The D Word, of course, is Waller himself and his exuberant, courageous, liberated performance. He shifts so naturally and openly through areas that are frequently stifled in awkwardness, culminating in his frank acknowledgement of the need to feel loved which underpins the whole production. I can’t recall ever experiencing such extraordinary freedom in a play that so successfully integrates an outrageously gleeful sense of humour with such a moving grace in the face of the unanswerable questions we keep buried in the depths of our hearts. It is nothing less than a wonderful privilege to be welcomed into this big-hearted, transformative evening beneath the Waterloo arches.
The D Word played until 17 February. For more information and tickets, visit the VAULT Festival website.