A vivacious and touching drama
Like flies on the wall, we behold an intense opening argument between father and daughter. Exactly what this argument concerns remains a bit of a mystery, yet the old father’s incoherent and disoriented speech leaves us in no doubt of his declining mental state.
On this jolly note of impending tragedy, we are transported to a bar, where 29-year-old Bella (Georgia Vyvyan) is celebrating her birthday with Emily (Ella Blackburn). Over wine, the two girls excitedly discuss at length the man they have just seen by the bar – Tom (Bertie Broomfield), who is one of Bella’s multiple ex-boyfriends. Thus, the stage is set for an evening of awkward encounters, as the guests begin to arrive for the celebrations. Richard, the barrister/amateur writer played by Freddie Bartlett-Evans, displays an indubitable arrogance, merely enhanced by the arrival of “the competition”. The lighthearted Sandy (Chloe Lansley) brings the necessary humour to cope with the darkness ahead.
Under the gloom of a call from the hospital – detailing the grave state of Bella’s dying father (Will Hale) – we delve into the psychology of this unlikely group of young people. As romantic jealousy spurs an injurious yet uproarious battle of insults between Bella and Richard, the gender conflict becomes apparent. The question goes beyond one of mere misogyny – the women are equally guilty of objectifying men in their relationships. It doesn't take Richard long to realise that Bella was having an affair with Tom while she was in a relationship with him.
The action descends into a tunnel of darkness and despair. Throughout this, the actors display an astounding capacity to maintain an act replete with heightened emotion, despite no clear plot to hinge on. The intimacy upon which the audience was intruding – the sardonic drunken confessions of love, envy, grief and anger – gave us an insight into issues affecting us all (albeit to a lesser extent). We have all laughed, loved, hated and lost: and yet it is not until it is placed before our noses that we recognise it.
The effective use of the classical unities of place and time helped create simultaneous empathy for the characters and claustrophobia, sparked by the spectre of Bella's father’s imminent death. When the topic of death is eventually reached, we cannot help but despair at Bella’s approaching loss. Through a veneer of indifference, Bella makes no mention of it, but the tender flashbacks to her childhood make us feel she will regret not being with him in his last moments.
The ending doesn't provide easy answers or final conclusions, but does provide a graceful catharsis against the main body of this play packed with cynicism, hatred and regret. The characters’ tragic mistakes – as in any conventional tragedy – make us wonder if we have our priorities set straight.
I feel it is necessary to conclude, with the relevance of the title: an affectionate father’s nickname for his beloved daughter. As the audience is plunged into an evening of madness, strife, wild accusations, adultery and explicit sexuality, the title is a subtle reminder that, in our busy working lives, we need to pay attention to the values that truly matter.
This powerful rendition of the struggles our generation faces was a thought-provoking and humorous experience, for which the entire cast and production team deserve ample praise.