My Dad’s Gap Year – Park Theatre, London

Writer: Tom Wright

Director: Rikki Beadle-Blair

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

For all its modern touches, My Dad’s Gap Year draws its humour from a well-tried and tested source – the age-old clash between the reserve of the British and the liberated attitudes of the rest of the world. Tom Wright’s 90-minute play begins as a warm-hearted, if unsubtle comedy which tells us to shed our inhibitions and run free, but then, confusingly, it turns into a sombre drama warning us to keep one foot on the brake pedal.

Sarah Beaton’s set design has the audience sitting on all four sides of a pool bar, conjuring up welcome dreams during a snowy London February. 18-year-old William (Alex Britt) is “a boring poof” (his Dad’s description), out of school and with a year to kill before starting university. Dad Dave (Adam Lannon.) is an out-of-work alcoholic whose wife Cath (Michelle Collins) has left him out of exasperation. Insisting that his son is in desperate need of some chillaxing, Dave hops on a plane to Thailand with William in tow, while, staying at home, Cath uses her new-found freedom to dip her toes in the over-40s dating scene.

On arrival in the far east, Dave hooks up with Mae (Victoria Gigante), a transgender lady who runs a bar staffed by ladyboys. William is slower to loosen up, still wearing a business shirt to the beach, but he eventually succumbs to the charms of Matias (Max Percy) a 30-year-old Spanish/Thai architect, who introduces him to the gay bars and saunas of Bangkok.

The scene in which the confident Matias chats up the diffident William is hilarious, as is William’s Face Time call with Cath in which he tells her excitedly the barely believable news that has a boyfriend. Mother and son then swap details of their sexual exploits, pausing only to query what is the correct plural for the word “penis”. All this is wittily written and skilfully acted and it seems that the play cannot possibly go wrong, but then it does.

The drink takes its inevitable toll on Dave’s health, William gets drawn deep into a dangerous world of hard drugs and wild sex and things start to fall apart for both of them. The problem is that, once the play is no longer funny, it is not very much at all.  The thinly-drawn characters are just what is needed to pull off the light comedy, but they have neither the depth nor the credibility to serve the heavier stuff that follows and Rikki Beadle-Blair’s production loses all its early bounce.

Although performed without an interval, this is a play of two halves, amiable enough, but, if Wright had been able to steer a consistent course, it could have been so much better.

Runs until 23 February 2019 | Image: Pamela Raith

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Play of two halves

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