by Louis Train
“Fuck me, these exotic birds are well shaggable!”
…is actually one of the more enlightened lines in Tom Wright’s new play, My Dad’s Gap Year, under the direction of Rikki Beadle-Blair. Part giddy romp and part failed attempt at progressive theatre, Gap Year’s greatest accomplishment is proving that – solidarity be damned! – LGBT art can be thoughtless, regressive, and ignorant.
Will (Alex Britt, in a performance that runs circles around the material) is 18, uptight, and gay. His father, Dave (Adam Lannon), is laid-back, unemployed, usually drunk, and unusually interested in his son’s sex life. Dave grabs at Will’s crotch more than once, often whilst saying things like, “You need the real deal, baby. You’re supposed to be gay for Christ’s sake […]” It is exactly as uncomfortable as it sounds.
And the plot begins: Dave talks Will into going with him to Thailand on indefinite holiday. Shhhh, don’t ask how they’re paying for it, why Dave doesn’t need to work, or how they sorted out their visas. You won’t get an answer.
In Thailand, Dave keeps drinking. He shacks up with a local, a trans woman, who patiently explains her gender identity to Dave and to the audience. Funny how Dave, who is an arse to everyone he meets and lies constantly to the women in his life, is never asked to explain himself – but Mae (Victoria Gigante) has to justify her existence three or four times throughout the show.
Meanwhile, Will starts dating another holidaymaker, Matias (Max Percy), who pushes Will to experiment with party drugs and non-monogamy. It’s clear that Matias isn’t trying to take advantage of Will, but the age difference, and Will’s total lack of experience in relationships and adult life, make the power imbalance palpable.
There are good plays about bad people. There are progressive plays about bigots. My Dad’s Gap Year takes its bad people, its bigots, and puts them in a context where the badness is always excusable and the bigotry is understandable. Like the characters themselves, who run away on a colonial fantasy rather than face their problems directly, the play raises loads of interesting questions – about love, family, codependency, queer and trans issues – and walks away from them, leaving them on the beach like litter and assuming the tide will take care of them.
In the finale, Dave and Will have hit rock bottom. It seems like they might actually suffer the consequences of their actions. Then appears Will’s mother, Dave’s ex-wife, Cath (Michelle Collins, a scene-stealer), who, with some fast talking and finger waving, puts plasters on all the wounds and kisses everyone better. The action is ambiguous – we don’t know if anything really is better – but it’s clear the show is over.
If there is a trajectory to My Dad’s Gap Year, it is the journey of two shitty white men who yearn to become average. Their dream of mediocrity is something we are expected to cheer; we are guided to celebrate their happiness and romanticise their pain. Maybe some in the audience did just that, but, in the words of the chap sitting next to me, whom I asked after the show to explain one especially frustrating plot hole:
“I don’t know, mate. This show isn’t for me. I don’t know who it’s for, but it isn’t for me.”
My Dad’s Gap Year runs through 23 February.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.