Writer: David Judge
Director: Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
You have to pay attention during the opening monologue in David Judge’s autobiographical single-person play SparkPlug. Mishear and it may take some time to appreciate that, although Judge is describing his childhood, he is doing so by performing in the role of his adoptive father ; confusingly also named David Judge.
Perhaps a degree of confusion is inevitable as Judge’s parentage is hardly straightforward. Judge is mixed-race as his mother Joanne is white and his birth father Jamaican. Yet Judge never met his birth father who refused to take any responsibility for his upbringing and abandoned Joanne before he was born. David Judge Senior, also white, formed a relationship with Joanne and enthusiastically offered to raise David as his own child even being present at his birth. So Judge Junior was in the odd position of being a dark-skinned child raised in Manchester by two white people in the 1980’s. At least until Joanne entered into a Gay relationship and left David Senior as a single parent.
The script for SparkPlug is outstanding running from poetic descriptions to brutal crudity. One of Judge’s two fathers is described as the greatest in the world, while the other is hardly a man -just a cock with balls. It is a rich lyrical script full of vivid descriptions and intense emotions raising questions on what it means to be a parent, the significance or otherwise of cultural heritage and how society copes with those who do easily fulfil what is considered the norm.
The issue of nature versus nurture is tackled with Judge clearly favouring the latter. The play is a moving tribute to the hard work of Judge’s adoptive father but dismissively points out all his birth father contributed was ethnicity. Social workers are baffled by the indifference of the Judge family to David Junior’s Jamaican heritage blind to the fact he was raised in Manchester by two white people. Judge clearly adores his adoptive father as is apparent in his flattering performance. Judge Senior is portrayed as a dignified character, standing ramrod straight and showing contempt for drugs. Yet Judge is too honest a writer not to acknowledge his father’s flaws- that he saw himself as a friend rather than a parent and so was a poor disciplinarian and possibly blind to being manipulated by his son.
Although SparkPlug is a single-person play it is hardly a dry monologue. Director Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder uses Judge’s highly physical performance style to create a dynamic and tense production. Central to this approach is Katie Scott’s remarkable set. A metal skeleton of a car centre stage provides a means by which the passage of time and development of events are marked being constantly stripped down and re-built by an increasingly agitated Judge. In the closing scenes the adaptable structure becomes a means by which frustration is exorcised with Judge twisting and turning around the frame like a caged animal.
Intensely moving and beautifully performed SparkPlug is a play that rewards attention.
Reviewed 14 February 2019 | Image: Alex Mead