Brought to Galway Theatre Festival 2019 by No Ropes Theatre
Written and performed by Laurence Clark.
Review by Annie McMahon
Have you ever wondered if you’re ready to have kids? What if a whole host of strangers wanted to weigh in to tell you that you’re not and never will be? Laurence Clark takes this seemingly nightmarish scenario and laughs at it. Clark is a father of two. He also has cerebral palsy, a condition which affects muscles and coordination, and so does his wife. They have 2 children and have faced more than enough criticism of their parenting for a lifetime. Following the birth of their second child, they were the subjects of a BBC documentary sensitively entitled “We Won’t Drop The Baby.” This piece focuses quite a bit on the horrors of becoming clickbait, a controversial concept for anonymous trolls with oddly cheery screen names to gleefully pull apart. Clark’s storytelling shows not only his thick skin but his admirable willingness to laugh at these people calling for his sterilization, for people like him not to be born even.
An Irresponsible Father’s Guide To Parenting is part of this year’s Galway Theatre Festival but fits more along the identifiers of stand up comedy/Ted Talk. The show is certainly styled as a comedy piece: even in the sad and shocking moments, Clark keeps his spirits high and the punchlines consistent. He’s charismatic and irreverent as he recounts the oddities of his (very cute) Scouser kids and his obsession with Doctor Who. His constant jokes had a kind of old fashioned one-liner setup/punchline formula that didn’t leave the audience in stitches too often, but the heart of this piece is the story of a Dad being told he shouldn’t have had kids, and finding solace in the warmth and maturity of his two sons. We are shown videos of his sons responses to some of the harsher insults from the comments section: Clark certainly passed down his goofy wit to these scene-stealers, but more than that Clark’s pride in his sons’ total ability for compassion and morality glows through his good-hearted digs.
The perspective of the kids on their father’s condition is filled with positivity and pride. Clark seems a beacon of confidence but matter-of-factly admits to feeling deeply insecure and hurt when he wonders about whether his kids lives are made harder, not because of the nature of his condition but of the cruelty of others towards them. The heartbreaking reality behind Clark’s experience is not presented to be pitied, but empathised with. He strives to allow the audience to understand fully what the online abusers do not.
The technical aspects of the show are simple and almost homemade looking, comprised of a powerpoint and video projection. These are mostly comic supports and the pared back style admittedly ensures the focus does not pull from the man of the hour. But it does leave me wondering about the potential of what can be done to elevate the stories and performance of Clark if production design went beyond comic photoshopping and “homevideo” testimony.
Laurence Clark says he wonders “if he’s a sh*t dad.” The conclusion that anyone may draw is that he is far from it, but like any parent, must be allowed the freedom to try and fail sometimes. This show looks upon parenting with honesty and humility, proving that, in Clark’s words, “we’re idiots raising idiots in an idiotic world.” Nobody’s perfect, but we all have the capacity for kindness and humour, and this unusual guide to parenting proves that all too well.
An Irresponsible Father’s Guide To Parenting runs until Sat 11th May in the O’Donoghue Centre. Tickets available at www.tht.ie