Sometimes you get to watch artists hit their stride and step majestically into full expression of their ability and passion to perform for an audience. Here Search Party present something beautiful and excoriating, a show which hit me over the head and made my noggin ring like a bell. Pete Phillips and Jodie Hawkes, who together make up Search Party, played with masterly abandon, every moment open and suggestive, allowing you to fall into the images being created. There was a sense of completion created by costume, set, props, sound, lighting, text and performers set in a fiery harmony.
Imagine that your parents, set the task of raising a child, had instead of settling meekly to the job at hand, railed against the difficulty, terror, and hilarity. Imagine they did this by deciding to share the experience with an audience. Imagine that they had expressed themselves completely. Perhaps they would have made a show as full and brutally honest as My Son & Heir.
Starting in what might be any suburban living room, gently scattered with toys, we progress from childhood toward parenthood and into giving birth with comic rapidity. In this case it is a beautiful, baby boy (balloon) which enters the world and from this point on the relationships created, through the clever use of text, props and costume changes, put fatherhood under intense scrutiny. What does it mean for one man to attempt to mould another?
Search Party perform with a pleasure and commitment that means you can’t look away however much you’d wish to. They are just so damn charming, a charm born of suffering and sleepless nights, a charm of maturity, it felt like looking at real human beings, masks discarded, and there is nothing more powerful than that. They are having fun on stage, really playing, pushing each other with the perfect timing that only two people who know each other inside-out can hit.
The show presents a sustained attack on cliché and expectation: the dream of an uber-child; of the scion as dream-being; of the visionary mother and muted father; of displays of passion; of delusions of grandeur; of happy-ever-after fairy tales of perfection. There is a beautiful inversion of the child-parent dynamic as we see Hawkes, coerced into eating her peas, all the while maintaining the perfect, ‘everything is ok’ demeanour of lovers engaged in a brutally subdued public argument. Face is saved at every cost even as the pressure builds into patronising and manipulative enforcement of one person’s will over another. Simple dinner time discipline begins to feel like setting up your own small fascist state.
Nothing is denied and everything is explored, from the impossible dreams to the pragmatic conflicts. The show builds into a heartbreaking dissection of potential failure and misery where the parents torture each other with visions of broken lives and dysfunction. Even in the final lines of the show there is no sentimentality only a powerful conviction and desire to communicate the fullness of their experience. This is a phenomenal show about the complexity of parenthood.