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‘The Good Dad (A Love Story)’ at the Old Red Lion

Do not murder thy father. The whole family knew he was a good dad. A really good dad. But he wasn’t well, had a weak heart, so they gathered around him to protect him – from everything. Because he was a good dad. And Donna was special; he loved her the most. So why is Donna in prison?

What the synopsis doesn’t tell you is that this is a play about sexual grooming, abuse, and incest. It starts with Donna in prison, and the story unravels as she narrates, punctuated by the perspectives of the mother (Susan) and Donna’s twin sister, the events that led up to this.

Essentially, the “Good Dad” (David) used his weak heart as an excuse to isolate Donna and have her take care of him. He grooms Donna from the tender age of thirteen, going on to have four children with her and even moving to a separate house with her and the children. The family knows but keeps it a secret. Donna eventually snaps, killing David in their own home by bashing his head in with a cast-iron frying pan.

The tiny theatre space above the Old Red Lion pub provided the ideal, intimate setting for this play. Lighting played an essential part in setting the mood for each scene – white, harsh spotlight when Susan was in the psychiatrist’s office; throbbing red lights when the Donna finally killed David. The stage was bare, save for a single stool in the center and a lone blanket as a prop, but it worked – Gail Louw wrote a fantastic script and Sarah Lawrie brought it to life with her acting alone.

Lawrie was simply flawless. A one-woman play can be tricky to pull off, but Lawrie gave a captivating performance, transitioning seamlessly between the three characters: mother, daughter, and sister. She managed to let the individuality of each character shine through by varying the use of her tone and language, making it easy for the audience to follow. My only gripe would be that it was sometimes hard to discern between Susan and Donna, but this might be part of the play’s intention – that the similarities in mannerisms between the two women might have been what attracted the David to Donna rather than her twin sister: Donna was simply a younger version of Susan. Nevertheless, if the pin-drop silence in the theatre throughout the play was anything to go by, Lawrie definitely enthralled the audience.

Overall, 'The Good Dad' packed a powerful punch in one short hour. What was titled so innocently somehow managed to incorporate darker themes of sexual abuse, incest, and the shocking lengths that a family would go to keep its secrets. A must-watch for anyone looking for something thought-provoking and emotional.

'The Good Dad' was on at The Old Red Lion as part of the 'Where Are We Now?' festival.

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