Edinburgh Fringe 2019
They’re trying. Despite everything. They’re really trying, to honestly connect, forgive the unforgivable and love fiercely through a hopeless situation. Award-winning writer Charlotte Josephine’s new play Pops follows a father and daughter caught in a vicious cycle of addiction.
Dad, says his desperate daughter, is a beached whale as she carves pieces out of him with her vicious tongue. You can see where she is coming from. He looks harmless enough, too timid to venture out, letting the world come to him through daytime TV, obsessed with the comforting format of a cookery show and listening to Ray Charles on repeat. It gets on our nerves just to be in the same space as him. He keeps himself clean and tidy but it’s all surface; he’s addicted to something (alcohol, another form of self-harm – we never really find out) and when it all gets too much he rages and wheels about in a mad physical tornado.
She leaves the house. She’s got no choice, needs a job. Every day she tries to engage with the outside world, but it’s not having her. She has left home once, left Dad, tried to move on with little human resources but now she’s got no choice to be back. Through her eyes we see how nothing has changed for him.
Connect, don’t connect, disconnect. Repeat. This tape will self-destruct in 10 seconds. Nobody’s really a vegetarian love, he says because god forbid daytime TV would be diverse, but he tries, buys her almond milk. He loves her, but he can’t help her, and he can’t help himself.
If this sounds like a grim theatrical experience, it isn‘t. Clever direction by Ali Pidsley switches up the pace and tone, and volume, and gives us a break when we get to the edge of unbearable. A joyful rock n’ roll dance routine, underscored with tension, their playful slaps hinting at frustrations with each other. The writing is clever too – sparse repetition interspersed with longer monologues and incoherent rants. In an hour of stunning theatre (in both sense of that word) this is a perfect synchronicity of talented actors (Nigel Barrett, Sophie Melville), delivering a cracking script, guided by intelligent direction and choreography. I wonder if the set could have a tad more inventive; the music tapes maybe in tottering piles more visible to the audience and more definition between performing spaces but the confident stagecraft by both actors overcomes this minor issue.
Josephine succeeds in her aim of skewering the bit of the audience’s brain that does empathy. Dad and daughter both grab at our hearts and we don’t judge them. We wouldn’t want to be under the same roof as Barrett’s Dad, either bored to tears by his bland routine or dodging flailing arms in his dance of incoherent rage, but underneath he’s a lost child. Melville’s daughter is spikier and harder to like but you could weep at the life she has dragged herself though and the knock backs in interviews for dead end jobs.
Part of High Tide’s Disruption season at the Assembly venues, Pops is an outstanding show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.