A 12 year old boy (Jordan Holloway) who has lost his father in a plane crash runs away from home to play with his beloved Lego in the deserted house down the street. Yet he is not alone. His Shadow (Daley King) follows his every move and two siblings, guitar-wielding brother (Sam Stopforth) and forthright sister (Violette Ayad), have broken into the house where they offer to help bring the boy’s father back but only if he wins two out of three games.
This is an odd mix of elements – part experimental, part audience participation, part shadow play – that seeks to illuminate the grief and trauma such a loss causes and the extent you would go to wish you could have that person back.
The father’s death is well conveyed by the Shadow using a Lego plane that crashes to suitable sound effects and lighting. But then there is a long lull where I was a little disoriented as the boy soundlessly explores this space by torchlight, seemingly playing with the Lego scattered about and encountering what we later learn is his Shadow self. It’s only when the siblings arrive that we begin to get any dialogue and a sense of who these characters are. Even that is a little misleading as I never quite nailed down exactly what the brother and sister represent – they begin as potential squatters but then seem to have a more divine or supernatural aspect (depending on your point of view).
The Shadow gets up to early mischief and is regarded as a potential ghost before quite casually being outed as a shadow representation with nary a second thought to the implications of this. It was just accepted. There was great potential here and as someone in the audience said after, they thought maybe the Shadow was in fact the boy’s dad which is an interesting notion if he had been ‘there’ all along. So there needed to be more clarity as to the ‘otherworldly’ elements.
The deal between the boy and the sister is also rife with potential. The traumatised kid wants his dad back and latches onto, on the surface, this outlandish prospect that could achieve such an outcome. But Death chooses not to play Chess, instead Hangman, Twenty Questions and a game of Guess Who I Am? This felt kind of awkward. A gentleman is picked from the audience for the game of Hangman after the sister breaks the fourth wall and addresses us as lost souls in some kind of limbo.
The other games are conducted between the characters but it felt like there needed to either be a full-throated commitment to drawing the audience into participating and, more importantly, caring about the result, or perhaps not calling such obvious attention to our presence. That tended to trade off the intimacy between the characters especially in the tricky realm of grief and loss for a stab at a more kinetic energy. It fell a little flat, however, and the play did tend to bog down in “Why are you here?”, “We’re here to help you?” repetition in the middle section that didn’t provide clear answers or narrative momentum.
Ayad has a strong stage presence and does her best to involve the audience. I wasn’t convinced, however, that she had ‘spoken’ to the boy’s father – I was more inclined to believe it was all a con rather than an actual ‘intervention’, supernatural or otherwise. Likewise, I wasn’t convinced by Holloway’s portrayal as a 12 year old but they may be more to do with the dialogue that felt better suited to an older teen. King gets to prowl around in a jet black body suit and adds some levity but this shadow representation could have embraced far more symbolic significance. Stopforth provides live music and some laid-back coolness but at times I found it hard to understand his dialogue.
The premise that two mismatched ‘entities’ come to help a boy lost in grief is solid but I wasn’t quite convinced of the execution here.
Death Stole My Dad is directed by Daley King and was devised by and stars Violette Ayad, Jordan Holloway, Daley King and Sam Stopforth. There are two more shows at the Blue Room Theatre on Saturday and Sunday the 24-25th of January as part of the Fringe World Festival.