The Play About My Dad review – a father in the eye of the storm

How do you tackle Hurricane Katrina, which hit America’s Gulf coast in 2005? Jonathan Holmes in Katrina (2009) gave us a verbatim piece that combined an attack on official ineptitude with stories of personal heroism. Boo Killebrew takes a different tack, creating a piece of meta-theatre in which the playwright, in a style that resembles the Young Vic’s Fun Home, explores her relationship with her estranged father.

The play works best when we forget the self-conscious framework and focus on the hurricane’s devastating impact.

Boo herself is a central figure in the action, relying on her dad’s memories of the storm and debating with him the nature of dramatic truth. But what really hits home are the portraits of the people involved. We meet a pair of medical technicians trapped in an ambulance, a family of three marooned on the roof of their home and an old storytelling woman filled with ancestral memories. Through them Killebrew touchingly captures different reactions to the catastrophe while showing how it forged a reconciliation between herself and her surgeon father.

Touching … Nathan Welsh and Ammar Duffus as trapped paramedics, and Miquel Brown storyteller Essie. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

Even if there is something intrusive about the dramatist’s announcement that she is going to give us a tapestry mixing time-travel and magic realism, Stella Powell-Jones’s production skilfully knits together the script’s different elements and gets a series of strong performances. As the dad, David Schaal both captures the doctor’s past dilemma over whether or not to abandon his family and conveys the fundamental decency of a man attending victims of the cyclone. Hannah Britland as his daughter, Ammar Duffus as a prophetic paramedic and Miquel Brown as the aged storyteller lend staunch support in a play that poignantly reminds us of the hurricane’s preventable horrors.

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