“Sometimes the story version is closer to the truth than the truth”

In The Play about My Dad, written by Boo Killebrew and based on real events, different narrative levels interact to tell different truths and stories about a few people who were caught up in the disastrous hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Staged in a very meta way, the character of Boo is still in the process of finishing her play. She rehearses bits, script in hand, with her father Larry, who has never acted before, and struggles to grasp the concept of ‘being himself’ on stage. He acts as a narrator as well as a character, moving in and out of scenes that Boo has devised.

In these scenes, we see the fates of three groups of people who, for different reasons, have not evacuated their hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi. 80-something-year-old Essie is waiting for her son Charlie, and doesn’t want to leave her house. Twenty-somethings Kenny and Neil are on duty keeping watch as medical emergency technicians in an ambulance. Jay doesn’t want to take a week off work, so he, his wife Rena and son Michael are staying home and throwing a “hurricane party”. They have all experienced these hurricane warnings before, and things have never been too serious.

But as these characters become increasingly aware of the danger that lies ahead, we learn more about Boo’s complicated relationship with her dad. Where was she when the hurricane hit? And why did she not know where her father was?

Killebrew experiments with putting elements of magical realism into her play, and stresses the importance of telling “the story version” of what happened. This is an interesting philosophy, and the elements of magical realism add an extra dimension to the narrative. It’s a shame they haven’t been integrated in all the story lines, however, and only really occur in one of them.

The piece remains compelling throughout, however, and this is thanks to both Killebrew’s clever and emotive script and some of the actors’ performances. Killebrew has got a great stage version of herself in Hannah Britland, whose superb acting makes her likeable, vulnerable believable all at once – if a little overly fussy at times. Ammar Duffus’s Kenny and Nathan Welsh’s Neil provide some great comic relief, but also pull off the touching moments.

The Play about My Dad blurs the lines between truth, memories and stories while experimenting with different theatrical devices. Fortunately, it never becomes gimmicky. On the contrary: swinging effortlessly from laughter to heartbreak and back again, this play is one that genuinely moves. Between the narrative experiments, something real and raw emerges.

The Play about My Dad is playing at the Jermyn Street Theatre until July 21

Photo: Harry Livingstone