The Almeida Theatre is killing it at the moment. Following the recent announcement of a West End transfer of The Doctor and the triumphant reaction and awards won for their genius revival of Spring Awakening, they are at it again - this time with the UK premiere of an exciting new play.
"Daddy" - A Melodrama is written by Jeremy O.Harris, whose Slave Play is currently wowing audiences on Broadway. Telling the story of what happens after a young Black artist meets an older White art collector and their growing relationship, "Daddy" explores the theme of power in the relationship as things progress throughout the play.
If Spring Awakening tested the water with fantastic staging at the Almeida, "Daddy" dives in the deep end. As soon as the curtain opens, you are greeted with a poolside view of "Daddy's" house... complete with an actual swimming pool. Not something you'd expect to see on a London stage but the sight of it is truly glorious. Evoking the feeling you are there with them, it creates a voyeuristic nature which may not seem wildly appropriate given the sexual nature but makes it completely gripping. The stunning set design by Matt Saunders really does set the bar high from the opening moment of the play, making it near impossible for all the other elements to live up to. (Spoiler alert - they do). Be warned though, if you are in the first few rows, you WILL get wet.
The cast is led by Terique Jarrett as Franklin - emerging from the pool, he gives a captivating performance as the seemingly innocent younger party in the relationship. As the play unfolds and we learn more about Franklins character and the deeper layers to him, Terique's acting only becomes more nuanced, providing a truly stunning performance.
"Daddy", or Andre as he is otherwise known, is played by Claes Bang. Giving a truly mesmerising performance, we learn less about what makes him tick as the play evolves, but Claes plays the sense of mystery and potential sinister undertones with ease. As the question of who holds the power in the relationship comes to the forefront, we see his character in a whole new light - a testament to the brilliance of his own acting, and we even get a surprising music performance from him, channelling his inner George Michael.
Sharlene Whyte is spectacular as Franklin's mother Zora taking a no-nonsense approach calling it as she sees it and commanding the stage with her presence. Everybody's Talking About Jamie star John McCrea returns to the London stage as Max, who forms a double act with Ioanna Kimbook as Bellamy. Together, they are Franklins closest friends in roles that are mostly used for comic relief but like everything else in the play, there is more than meets the eye to them. The cast is rounded off by Jenny Rainsford as Alessia, Franklins wildly inappropriate agent, with Keisha Atwell, T'Shan Williams and Rebecca Bernice Amissah as the fabulous Gospel choir.
Depth is the key word when talking about "Daddy" and this play has it in spades. The writing is impeccable, clever and intricate with little details hidden throughout that piques interest with a completely satisfying conclusion. The use of George Michael's song 'Father Figure' both as spoken dialogue and even a big performance has the danger of verging on parody, but it is executed so meticulously, it adds more meaning to both the play and the song itself.
All of the elements of this production are exquisite. Brilliantly directed by Danya Taymor, highlights include beautiful movement and choreography by Anjali Mehra, stunning lighting from Isabella Byrd, and of course the gorgeous use of music by Lee Kinney, with the gospel choir and the occasional other cast member breaking up the spoken dialogue with song, adding yet another layer to an already multifaceted play.
I wasn't sure what to expect with "Daddy" - it has ended up being one of the best things I have seen on stage this year. Powerful, thought-provoking and glorious, between the incredible acting, flawless writing and sensational production, this is an absolute masterpiece. To quote 'Father Figure', "Daddy" really is something special.
"Daddy" plays at the Almeida Theatre until April 30th. Tickets from almeida.co.uk
Photos by Marc Brenner