Ray Rackham reviews Over My Dad’s Body at the Vault Festival 2020 at The Vaults In London.
Over My Dad’s Body
Vault Festival Website
Over My Dad’s Body: an honest, desperately heartbreaking and forcibly thought-provoking piece of theatre which is served with a side of sequin pant-suit and mesh vest; secured its place as a true highlight of this year’s Vault Festival within the first sixteen bars of its opening number; and confirms Simon David’s place as a master of the one-person show.
As is often the case, the hope is that the ‘character’ presented in a one-person show is an exaggeration or extreme distillation of the actual person. Simon David is gay, and by his own admission, that’s pretty much all you need to know about him. We see him write amusing songs, and developing show ideas that very much places himself in the spotlight. It’s all very meta and upfront, open and honest; and the first fifteen minutes of his new show is framed as a delightfully gay romp through the life of a theatrically inclined, early-twenties homosexual with a lot to say about the idiosyncrasies of his profession, identity and perceived sexuality. But then, we learn – as indeed Simon does – that just dad has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and everything changes.
For a brief moment, it appears the tone change is designed to shift gears to a more deep and thoughtful (almost worthy) piece; but then we learn that David’s father plans to perform in his very own one-man-show, much to his son’s dismay. What if dad is a complete embarrassment to, or even worse better than, David? What follows is a concoction of hilarity and poignancy that is quite unexpected; and sets David not only as a fine performer and talented raconteur, but a perfectly astute observer of the human condition. Featuring real-life video of his father’s eventual one-man show (which didn’t seem at all embarrassing), there is a perfectly judged moment of David receiving advice from his father which prompted audible and cathartic gasps from an already enraptured audience.
But the success of a one-person show rests heavily on the person, and here we are certainly not disappointed. Simon David appears to be the theatrical love-child of Liza Minnelli, Ned Sherrin, and Elaine Stritch. His witty, campy, and always aware performative style is triumphant and endearing in equal measure, and he is genuinely funny; scripted or (as often was the case) unscripted and impromptu. In this stellar production, David has made his dad proud, and in turn has delivered a show that will live long beyond its short run at the Vaults, particularly in the hearts of its knocked out audience.