This September, the quaint yet ever comforting Hope Theatre in Islington is home to The Good Dad – a new play by Gail Louw, starring Sarah Lawrie. At its core, The Good Dad is a disturbing family drama, exploring themes of sexual assault, betrayal and the most intense of psychological disturbances. However, Louw’s newest monologue does not meet expectations – in fact, it misses its potential completely.
Donna has been assaulted by her dad throughout her childhood. The Good Dad explores her experience, how she copes and how her trauma manifests. It also does this from three familial perspectives, including Donna’s mum’s and sister’s. The content sets up the expectation of a gripping hour of theatre – the potential for exploration here is incredible – but both Louw and Lawrie miss their marks.
Don’t get me wrong – Lawrie is captivating and her talent is obvious. But, she appears over-rehearsed. Her performance lacks shading with a missing blend of lightness and darkness. Donna – the victim – begins invitingly, drawing the audience in with each articulation of her experience. However, once she returns to this character after acting as Donna’s mum and sister, she lacks the rawness she begins with. As Susan – mum – Lawrie displays exceptional vocal ability. She is almost acrobatic transforming into this strained, stressed and traumatised character. However, her exceptional transformation is not matched physically and I feel disappointed with how she uses her body to tell Susan’s story – expressing such a life provides limitless physical opportunities for an actor. With Carol’s story (the sister), both the writing and acting within The Good Dad loses its rewarding subtlety. The play becomes explanatory rather than inviting – it almost feels forced at times.
The Good Dad is a classical song, whereas we need a rock ballad. Trauma is a universal theme, and the trauma within this play is complex beyond belief; I crave the revulsion of rawness, but it is absent.
Louw’s writing has gorgeous moments shining a shocking light on the cycle of abuse and Lawrie’s acting explodes with potential – but this play is craving messiness. It feels strange saying this, because I know there is no right or wrong way to express trauma. However, sometimes – when performing – it is better to just jump and feel instead of pausing to think.
The Good Dad is playing at the Hope Theatre until 11 September. For more information and tickets, see the Hope Theatre’s website.