Reviewed by Flossie Waite
Nick Makoha in association with Southbank and Nimble Fish
Reviewed at Village Hall, Battersea Power Station
For ages 8+
8-year-old Nick is separated from his father by many shores and an inability to show up. After years of missed milestones and forgotten birthdays, Nick knows more about Mr Dekin down the road than he does about his own Dad. The gap left by his absent father is filled with Superman and Luke Skywalker: superheroes are the male role models that ‘raise’ Nick. My Father and Other Superheroes is an autobiographical spoken word play about Nick’s journey from primary school to parenthood, exploring his complex relationship with his father, the responsibilities of having his first child, and the realisation that not all heroes wear capes.
Makoha’s performance of his own life shifts between childhood and adulthood, fantasy and reality, recollection and reflection, but what this achieves in terms of variation and pace, it forfeits in terms of coherence, and at times My Father and Other Superheroes is hard to follow. The chronologically disordered structure is peppered with deep ruminations on ‘time’ which feel conspicuously grandiose – on each occasion, Makoha moves to a spot lit circle at the front corner of the stage, away from where the rest of the narrative action is performed, to deliver these thoughts, so that in every sense they feel distant, and distinct, from the majority of the play.
Far more affecting are young Nick’s internal monologues, capturing the rage and anger, prompted by his dad’s rejection, that lies always just below the surface. Makoha powerfully depicts his complicated, fraught, inconstant feelings for his father. At first he hates him, but once young Nick finally gets the paternal attention he craves he responds by hero-worshipping his dad, though we watch as this new-found relationship in turn starts to crumble.
Makoha tells us that his dad’s kryptonite is women, and his superpower is undressing them, but another skill he seems to have is commanding undue influence. Despite not really featuring in young Nick’s life – Nick only knows his father’s name because it’s on his passport – he is able to uproot Nick from his lifelong home in Peckham, to study at a boarding school in Kenya (“a pay-as-you-go prison’), and then later to live in Saudi Arabia. A combination of young Nick’s joy at finally being his father’s focus, and his single mother wanting the best for him, could be what initially gets him on the plane, but the motives are unclear enough that the move feels sudden and unbelievable (despite being based on real life).
The real hero, it seems, is Nick’s mum, who eats sugar sandwiches so Nick can have three meals a day. The sacrifices she makes and unconditional support she offers are quietly revered but ultimately side-lined. The only female character (except Nick’s infant daughter) is unduly lost, crowded out by hyper-masculine superheroes and the dominating non-presence of Nick’s father (he is “like the star of my life, hard to reach”). There are interesting, underlying, unexplored gender dynamics that could be pursued in their own play.
The stripped back staging – no set, just atmospheric lighting and smoke machines – and focused, one-man storytelling, reinforce the simple takeaway at the heart of this show. You don’t need a batmobile or the ability to fly, you don’t have to stop crimes or swing a light saber; really, underneath every mask and utility belt, is a man in a silly costume. It’s being an everyday hero that counts, doing the best job possible for your family and your child.
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