Theatre Review: SparkPlug, HOME, Manchester
As a self-proclaimed ‘launchpad for new talent’, Manchester-based Box Of Tricks pride themselves on championing the next generation of playwrights, commissioning and developing “bold and original new plays from the most exciting new voices”. Lofty ambitions but borne out by such impressive productions as Chip Shop Chips, Narvik and Plastic Figurines.
Written by and starring David Judge, and directed by the company’s Joint Artistic Director and co-founder Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder, SparkPlug is a good fit for their remit.
Inspired by autobiographical events and the playwright’s background as an actor and spoken word artist, it is unflinching, sometimes uncomfortably so (hence the warnings in its publicity), in its exploration of racism, violence and masculinity. But it’s the great love and honesty at its heart that makes it such a powerful and compelling piece.
A one-man show telling the story of a white man, Dave, who becomes the adoptive father, mother and best friend of a mixed-race child called David, SparkPlug opens in Manchester’s Moss Side in 1983. Dave’s love of Rod Stewart and his Ford Capri is distinctly at odds with his surroundings but he’s hanging on by his fingernails to a life where chaos, confusion and contempt for the colour of someone’s skin aren’t the norm. He’s all set for a new start, even if his beloved Joanne’s about to have someone else’s baby. But is Dave really ready for the pain and confusion, dourly predicted by his Irish mammy back in Wythenshawe, that’s likely to follow?
“As a ‘man of colour’,” says Judge, “my voice as a writer has become a valued weapon, loaded and aimed at those without. As a ‘man of colour’ I sometimes feel pressured to speak for a community I know nothing of and feel I am being recruited to hate those without, the ‘white man’. This fight both inside and outside of myself makes me question where my loyalties lie. Who am I loyal to? And who is loyal to me?”
So far, as he personally – and this is a deeply personal piece – is concerned, “the answers are straightforward. My biological Father, my ‘Black’ left me before I was born, and my biological Mother, my ‘Blood’ left me when I was seven years old. The only person who stuck by me, from boy to man, who shaped me into the man I am today, was a white man. A white man with ‘love’ and ‘hate’ tattooed on his knuckles, with a ginger perm, with a Ford Capri, with Rod Stewart constantly on the stereo. So out of my loyalty to him, I have used my voice to write a play about the man who made me one. My Father.”
A punchy, poetic and provocative play, SparkPlug tours nationally after its run at HOME.
Main image: David Judge (Dave) in SparkPlug by David Judge, directed by Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder. Photo by Alex Mead/Decoy Media.
SparkPlug is at HOME Manchester until 23 February before touring to venues including Unity Theatre, Liverpool (February 26-March 2); Harrogate Studio Theatre (March 11-12); Live Theatre, Newcastle (March 14-16); York Theatre Royal (March 19-20); Hull Truck Theatre (March 21-22); Theatre Clwyd (March 26-27); Crewe Lyceum Studio (March 28); Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax (April 4); The Met, Bury (April 5-6); and Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough (April 8-9); finishing at Birmingham Repertory Theatre (April 10-13).
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