That’s assuming that it’s not your family. Thankfully, the Henry clan are not on stage tonight and it is the Talbot family that are aspiring to put the ‘fun’ into dysfunctional.
All seems well when we are initially introduced to the Talbots. Pottering around on high heels, powerfully dressed is working mum June Talbot (Shelley Atkinson), who’s first words many a parent in the audience can relate to, shouting in an attempt to get the kids (who are no longer kids) Kenny (Patrick J. O’Reilly) and Becky (Claire Lamont), ready for the day ahead. Despite being preoccupied with their own self-interests, Kenny with ambitions of becoming captain of the rowing team and Becky who is five days away from marrying her betrothed, the somewhat dubiously titled Dave A. Murray (who has yet to experience the inevitable awkwardness that comes from meeting in-laws), they manage to ask the whereabouts of dad. His absence is explainable, being on a communication course. However, unbeknown to the kids, their father has left them.
Mum, whose whole world is crashing down around her, hires an actor (Michael Diana) to play the role of Fake Dad in an attempt to keep the perception of normality. Fake Dad more than embraces his new reality, dying his hair grey and wearing glasses. Worryingly, although it may help to explain why dad may have left, the kids barely notice that Dad has shrunk, become younger and adopted an English accent. Having said this, despite only having one oar in the water, Kenny’s suspicions are aroused as something about Dad isn’t quite right. Fortunately, the persistent absence of the cat, ‘is he in or out?’ provides to be a convenient conversation changer enabling mum to avoid discussing the elephant in the room.
However, the accrued costs of the impending wedding and the wages and expenses of Fake Dad, means that mum also has to deal with financial instability. In one of the most well received moments of the play, the audience giggle with amusement as mum unsubtly takes the microwave, fridge-freezer, cupboards, rowing machine and sofa to pawn. Somewhat surreally, even Kenny’s room isn’t safe (although it is yet to make an appearance in CEX). Even more bizarre is the explanation given, forgetful Kenny having left it on the bus.
A powerful performance is given by mum who is the star of the show, particularly with her attempts to seduce Fake Dad in an unforgettable Dairylea twerking scene. Unexpectedly, given his subdued role in the early scenes, as he is restricted to the limited Norn Irish script of Real Dad of ‘aye’, ‘grand’ and ‘right’, Fake Dad surprises the audience with some ballsy renditions of classis hits like ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’ to get the audience tapping their feet and singing along to.
The play improves in the second half, with the first enabling character development and plot setting to depict the monotony of daily life and helping to explain why real dad may have left. An audience grabbing performance is delivered by a half-naked Kenny who is only too aware that people are looking at him. Meanwhile, Becky starts to demonstrate that she too has her own skeletons in the closet, providing an unexpected twist, as does the return of Real Dad (Conor Grimes) who gives a thoroughly believable performance as a neglected dad who is tired of living groundhog day.
Overall, the self-obsessed family play provides an original, often surreal, but hilarious means of escaping our own groundhog day and leaves the audience with a relatable message. Whilst all families may appear normal, they may have their own issues behind closed doors – although I doubt many as strange as the Talbots. Keith Henry, GiggingNI.com