The sins of the fathers : THEATRE

Mad and Her Dad Lyric Studio, London W6
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The Independent Culture
For the first few minutes of Mad and Her Dad, I suspect I was wearing an expression of panicky incredulity, quite unlike the fatuous grin of pleasure that was plastering my face by the time I emerged a couple of hours later. The piece is a musical by Paul Sand, whose most recent project Out of the Blue, a "tuna" about Nagasaki, bombed (so to speak) after about a fortnight at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Mad and Her Dad has certain key similarities to it. Both works, for example, build up to the event ual reunion of an estranged father and the daughter he has not seen since she was a little girl, and both have uplift-songs with the image of "the blinding light".

In spirit, though, the shows could hardly be more different. Small-scale and irreverent, Mad and Her Dad keeps puncturing pretensions whereas Out of the Blue never established its right to the pretensions it kept inflating. In the earlier piece, major historical events and the forces of racial prejudice tore the father-daughter pair apart, whereas in this latest one the cause is nothing more earth-shattering than the artist-father's abandonment of his family as an itchy-footed hippie. And they are brought together by a series of accidents that cannot be accused of the slightest dignity: the father, a 1960s-nostalgic, designs a range of pornographic wallpaper which threatens to bring scandal and ruin to the daughter's new boyfriend, the young head of a family wallpaper firm.

Yes, this must be one of the few musicals ever to include such lyrical technical terms as "24-inch repeats" in its songs. It is also one of the few to be arranged for string quartet as sole accompaniment. The Lyric Quartet produce a splendid sound, shifting with great versatility from straight-ahead emotionalism, through tango and samba pastiche, to noises which, in one song, reminded me of Madness. This type of backing works best as poker-faced send-up, however, and it can have a clogging effect on some of the punchier lyrics.

The writing and the dramatic development are pretty ragged but Gwen Walford's engaging, simple production makes a virtue of the lack of finish. In very good voice, Tim Hardy is hilarious as the father, giving the character's nostalgia for the 1960s just the right degree of ridiculous soulfulness: "In the Sixties / We stood for something then / We all got stoned and everything shone / We listened to sounds / And people walked down to the river / With nothing on." As his daughter and her boyfriend, DeniseBlack and Conrad Nelson have a fine comic appeal, nowhere more so than when they make what sounds like uncomfortable love ("I'm freezing." "Is that your own?"). The "dreary musical" playing on the telly in the same room shows the pair of them in glamorous evening dress by the edge of a sunset sea, reprising in grandiose spoof-video mode their big duet from earlier. The show is daft from start to finish but with just enough delightful moments to make it seem worthwhile.

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