COME TO DADDY
POWERFUL AND PROFOUND STAGE SHOW ABOUT FATHER-AND-SON RELATIONSHIPS FROM UNDERWORLD’S KARL HYDE AND OTHERS.
FATHERLAND ROYAL EXCHANGE THEATRE, MANCHESTER THURSDAY, 6 JULY, 2017
Had great nights on drugs and enjoyed them totally/But I remember at this point thinking, ‘There isn’t any feeling in the world to beat, you know… when you break’/You just start sobbing, don’t you?… You’ve got your girl in your hands/There wasn’t a feeling like it/And I went home and it didn’t wear off, you know, the feeling/ Unlike with drugs, you didn’t have a comedown.” The song is called No Feeling Like It, and its lines are not quite your regular kind of lyrics. But in the intimate confines of Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, sung by an actor whose words are intended to convey the wonder of fathering a newborn child, they are amazingly moving – something hammered home by the chorus, plucked verbatim from a half-coherent conversation, and bellowed out by a small crowd of supporting players who look like the male half of Britain in microcosm. “Have been fantastic!” they shout.
“Have been fantastic! Fantastic! Fantastic!” Welcome to Fatherland: a 95- minute creation produced by Frantic Assembly (the people responsible for the stage version of the hit novel The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time, first premiered in 2012, and still going strong), unveiled at this year’s Manchester International Festival, and co-created by Underworld’s Karl Hyde. The latter has long specialised in songs drawing on real-life exchanges, which made him the perfect choice for this latest work: a deep exploration of the relationships between fathers and sons, which uses the highlights of conversations with men from each of the three authors’ hometowns. Hyde is from Kidderminster, on the edge of the sprawl around Birmingham. His co-authors Scott Graham and Simon Stephens hail respectively from Corby, in Northamptonshire, and Stockport, Greater Manchester. In some ways, the script and songs are as much about places as people, which speaks to the dad-centric subject matter. As Graham puts it: “That town is your father, and you’ve mythologised that father, good or bad. All of that exists in the stories you tell of it, whether you choose to tell a story of it being a monster or a nurturer.” Put simply, this is an amazing piece of work. No end of themes are explored, both eternal, and topical: love, bereavement, the lost identities that went with heavy industry, the very male resentments that sat under support for Brexit – and throughout pretty much everything, that eternal male tendency to avoid direct conversation about feelings and seek some kind of emotional refuge in the telling of stories. The whole thing reaches its denouement around two-thirds of the way through, when the focus suddenly falls on the three authors, and their own experiences. Hyde’s dad Graham (or rather, Neil McCaul, the actor who brilliantly plays him) is a huge presence, talking not only about his experience of fatherhood – “Karl was not a pretty child,” he admits – but also his own dark, unspeakably troubled upbringing. Scott Graham’s character thinks aloud about the buttoned-up masculinity evident in the small details of his dad’s behaviour at home (“He felt he had the right to be that person who sits on the sofa while things happen around him”). The actor playing Stephens, meanwhile, affectingly talks about the father he lost to alcoholism. Throughout, there’s a sense of men not used to dropping their guard doing exactly that. “The majority of people we spoke to have probably never sat down and spoken in that way,” says Hyde, who has just released an album version of the songs from the show, recorded and co-written with the experimental musician Matthew Herbert. “We’re talking to people who’ve had to keep up a front, who come from societies where to let your front down is a sign of weakness. Yet all of them opened up to us.” Among the most moving examples is Not A Word, delivered by a character called Daniel – and centred on love, and how rarely men talk about it. “No we don’t say the word ‘love’ any…/No we don’t say the word… to any… to each other,” he sings, with a hesitance that speaks volumes. “But we kind of try and do the best we can for each other/ Uh… it’s a word/We don’t really use…” It might be down to this writer’s gender, but the tangle of emotions evoked by a piece like that almost defies explanation. As with so much of Fatherland, it’s really about the inarticulable fundamentals of life, and how you can divine deep things in apparently ordinary speech. Judging by their loudly appreciative response, tonight’s crowd understands that as a matter of instinct, which bodes well for next year – when Fatherland will open in London, and audiences will once again experience a trailblazing creation that’s powerful, profound – and unimpeachably fantastic.
“WE’RE TALKING TO PEOPLE FROM SOCIETIES WHERE TO LET YOUR FRONT DOWN IS A SIGN OF WEAKNESS. YET ALL OF THEM OPENED UP TO US.” KARL HYDE
Parent’s evening: (above) the cast of Fatherland let loose; (below) the show’s c0-creator Karl Hyde.
“A trailblazing creation”: Manchester gets a big, fat dose of catharsis.
Emotional rescue: musical theatre hits new heights.