Philip Larkin’s lines: ‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had. And add some extra, just for you’ were prominent in my mind while watching Richard Marsh’s Wingman. Except this play is specifically about the father-son relationship.
Writer Marsh plays a fictionalised version of himself alongside Jerome Wright who plays his dad Len in this two man play-cum-poetry performance.
The death of Marsh’s mother acts as a catalyst for reunion and reconciliation with his estranged father – a premise that could have easily verged into mawkish ITV drama territory if handled with less skill.
And in truth there are moments when the play teeters on the contrived and corny. For example, Len’s attempts to hide the revelation that his son is going to be a father on the same day of his mum’s funeral feel quite clumsily plotted.
Where the play works best, and possibly where Marsh’s poetry shines most, is on becoming a father and learning the self-doubts of parenthood. ‘I want you to say what your heart wants to say, not wait for booze to take the shame away. Don’t be like me, messing up nightly,’ he whispers to his newborn.
Marsh is talented at penning verse and it’s these moments – rather than the straight dialogue – where his performance is strongest.
There is a good dose of comedy, too. Driving to scatter his mum’s ashes with her pink cylindrical urn wedged between his thighs, Len remarks ‘Freud would have a field day’. But its most notably when Marsh takes on the character of the Welsh mother of his child Bridgette. ‘Don’t mess with the Welsh, Len, we’ll fuck with your living. And you’re dead,’ she says in the play’s hilarious and touching denouement.
Considering it’s a two-man performance with no props and little over an hour, Wingman manages to pack quite an emotional punch. On leaving the theatre, I heard one man say: ‘I was really welling up at the end.’ I don’t think he was the only one.
Wingman will be showing until 20 September at:
21 Dean Street
Tickets £15 (£10 concession)