THE Good Dad (A Love Story) is as misleading a title for a play that you are likely to find in a lifetime of searching. It’s a play about family abuse that true to life repeats itself. Bad Dad, grotesque Dad. Abuse, not love.
Written by Gail Louw and inspired by real events in the 1980s, it tells the story of Donna, the abused. We first meet her in a cold prison cell awaiting trial for a murder she has committed. A killer? No sympathy there, then. Leave her to rot with only a friendly bird to keep her company.
But, like a jigsaw, and as we zig-zag in time, we discover why she is in prison. She murdered her father (Dave) with a kitchen instrument while he was asleep. We also start discovering the horrific life she has lived and that provoked her to commit murder. She was impregnated by her father at 13, went on to be a mother to four of his children, and set up home with him – only to discover that when their first born was 13, ‘good’ Dave made a move on her.
The horror of it all is magnified 100 times over by the complicity of everyone involved – Donna her mother, her close sister Caroline and the rest of the two families that ‘good’ Dad is head of. It’s a monumental cover up. Mother seems more jealous than angry while Caroline – until right at the end – keeps her own counsel. ‘It was a love story,’ recalls Donna in her cell. ‘Thick sticky love.’ No, Donna, it was abuse, and it took 17 years to figure it out and break free from it (albeit with bloody consequences).
It’s an hour of uncomfortable, but essential and compelling viewing – shining a light on family abuse that is more prevalent than many people realise (on average, four children out of a classroom of 30 are subject to family abuse of some shape or form).
Difficult though it is to view without getting angry, the performance of Sarah Lawrie as all the females in this family cover up (daughter, mum and sister) is quite magnificent. With just a high stool and towel as props, she effortlessly moves between the play’s three central characters. It’s a 60-minute performance of high calibre – immersive to watch, but one that I imagine leaves Lawrie thoroughly exhausted (I craved a shower afterwards to wash away any trace of the play). Each episode in the horror show is delineated by the use of effective lighting and sound (Chuma Emembolu).
Directed with great assurance by Antony Shrubsall, The Good Day (A Love Story) is an unsettling piece of theatre. See it and be prepared to be shocked and sickened by the grotesque family web spun before your very eyes. But also see it and marvel at an actress right on top of her game. Stardom beckons for Sarah Lawrie. We don’t need 17 years to figure that one out.
The play runs until February 15 – including Valentine’s Day.
Title photo by Anne Koerber