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Father Figurine

by on 20 March 2019

Profound Painful Pride

Father Figurine

by Isaac Ouro-Gnao

Body Politic at Stratford Circus Theatre until 20th March

Review by Suzanne Frost

Rarely have I seen a show focussing in on its central theme with such force within the first opening seconds. A father approaches his teenage son with a mild face and loving eyes, he leans in for a gentle touch, a tender hug – and then he slaps his son on the shoulder with the fake camaraderie of a sports team and they start their dance where intimacy equals awkwardness and the closest they get to human touch is a fist pump. Father Figurine explores the relationship between a father (Tyrone Isaac-Stuart) and a son (Isaac Ouro-Gnao, who also wrote the script) and the struggles and pressures men in general face in society regarding their emotional and mental wellbeing. Statistics show that the majority of mental health problems begin at age 14-18, during the time when young boys start the separation process and try to figure out how to become men themselves.

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Both father and son seem to grapple with some traumatic event dominating their live, the nail chewing son responding with rising anxiety while the stoic, passive father seems to almost disappear within a cloud of depression and resignation. There is a gaping absence in their lives, made poignantly visible as they set the table for three every day, with particular, meticulous care given to that ominous third napkin that will never get used. Their little everyday routine is quickly established and maybe didn’t have to be repeated that often, but it is striking to see the choreography of their daily chores planned out so that they would never touch, never look at each other, never speak but warily observe the other man, passing by a million chances to reach out and break the toxic atmosphere.

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Body Politic use hip hop dance and spoken word to tell their story and, while during the dance sequences their silent, moving bodies express a multitude of emotions – pain, torment, fear, excitement –, the scripted scenes are poignant for their lack of words, unbearable silences and aggressive one-word responses. “Did you sleep alright?” – “Fine”. And then we see them at night, each one tormented by the same nightmares, mirroring painful contortions in their separate rooms.

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Over time, even the occasional empty phrases and platitudes disappear, until complete silence encompasses the dining table and the only interaction between the two family members is a wordless wave. It is the young son who gets up the courage to plead: “Dad, we need to talk.” He is a passionate kid actually, who enjoys school and is eager to share some of his thoughts and interests. The father is the one who has hardened, suppressing not just the emotions of pain and loss he puts down to his failure at being a man, but even little moments of joy he only allows himself behind closed doors, grooving tentatively to the radio as he takes of his suit after work. You have to feel for the guy who has rid himself of all humanity to appear strong, to fulfil the role of “man”. The failure of fathers has been handed down for generations. “Who can teach me?” he desperately cries out. But his young son is already watching, learning by imitation, reaching out less, hardening.

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Father Figurine is a powerful show, profound, painful and full of empathy. Stereotypical ideas about masculinity and male behaviour are stubborn but it will be up to this generation to challenge them. Towards the end, the music gets laced more and more with verbatim statements of men talking about their struggles with manhood and the urgent beep of a helpline. Will this father pick up?

Suzanne Frost
March 2019

Photography courtesy of Body Politic

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