HOME Theatre, Manchester; Thursday 14th February, 2019
“I’m here, I’m aaaaaahrite, …. I got me car.”
Dave loves his car, his beloved Ford Capri – the metallic 1980s comfort blanket that he wears around him as he ferries his sister and her mate between the leafy-green Irish estates of Wythenshawe and the cramped, red-brick claustrophobia of Moss Side.
Things happen to Dave when he’s in his car, playing his Rod Stewart tapes; and quite a lot of things seem to happen outside the car too. Though he’s mad for it, eventually he’s left with no choice: he can’t just cruise up and down the Princess Parkway in his Capri forever, ultimately he has to open that door and step out – there are some big, big decisions to be made.
SparkPlug by writer and performer David Judge is a theatrical biography – it is phase-shifted up one generation in the sense that the entire performance is delivered by Judge taking on the persona and actions of his father (who, rather confusingly, is also called Dave).
It takes a considerable number of the show’s opening scenes to successfully make the Dave versus David differentiation – at which point the puzzling pieces do eventually begin to fall together to allow the story to then flow more easily.
At the time it’s a bewildering experience, but, looking back upon it, it seems that this is perhaps more than just a coincidence of naming. The blurring of this particular father-and-son boundary is in many ways quite apt, given the story that Judge goes on to tell.
Sparkplug is an exploration of so many complexities – most prominent seems to be an examination of attitudes to race in the 1980s, not just among the white population of Wythenshawe but also among the black community centred around Moss Side.
Judge is a product of both of these communities, but, in the same way that Dave the father uses a Ford Capri as his vehicle of choice, SparkPlug the play uses him as its vehicle for delivery, meaning that the mixed-race experience of David Judge almost seems to be missing, or at least ill-defined. But parts of it are inferred beautifully though, through some poignant anecdotes that reassuringly depict Judge as the Michael Jackson / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle wannabe that just ploughed on ahead regardless.
Most pertinently of all though, SparkPlug is a very deep and personal exploration of fatherhood. The story of how Dave put his love of cars in the back seat when fatherhood came knocking is an extraordinary one – particularly when coupled with the trials experienced by Judge many years later as his parents relationship began to crumble.
SparkPlug feels a little intrusive, at times it becomes an almost voyeuristic peep into the complex issues that happened to forge and shape a particular family unit. At ninety minutes in length it also feels a little too long, perhaps a few too many anecdotes at the expense of what would have been a shorter, punchier net outcome.
But despite this it provides a fascinating insight into how the identity roots of a single individual are so completely intertwined with those of the father figure that shaped him. Dave and David share so much more than just a name – this is no ordinary father-to-son connection, it is literally something far stronger than biology alone.
Photography: Alex Mead, Decoy Media.
|Visual pleasure||Set in a home garage with the stripped chassis of a motor vehicle centre stage. The scene is cluttered with the kind of junk you’d expect in any garage: old board games, a few pictures, random tyres. Judge’s movement in and around the car is amusing, and the constant tinkering with spare parts strongly suggests a powerful sense of emotional attachment.||3|
|Auditory pleasure||Punctuated with sound effects to reinforce the various stories being told, and an evocative playlist that reproduces the music and television shows of the late 1980s.||3|
|Architecture & Theme||Judge’s family story is fascinating and the link to cars is a good one, it seems to play on the notion that men somehow feel content and at ease around their vehicles, perhaps using them as an emotional refuge where they can feel in control and where they can deal with life on their own terms.||3|
|Artistic delivery||Excellent performance from Judge who at no point looked as if he was acting, the whole delivery came across as well as if he was simply reciting a personal story to friends.||4|
|Overall impact||An extraordinary family story that clearly delivers a cathartic and expressive release for the performer. The content is excellent but at ninety minutes it felt too long, some of the emphasis and impact was lost towards the end and sadly seemed to dilute the overall experience. But still a strong piece of theatre.||3|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|