The theatre is a place to be entertained, of course, but it is also a platform for conversation, thought and reflection. A place where ideas can be shared and challenged and concepts created. Whether what you are seeing on the stage is fictional or based on truth, there is something we can learn from this shared experience to help enrich our own existence.
This is, in part, what David Baddiel achieves in his new live show, My Family: Not the Sitcom. On paper, the premise is rather melancholic for the show is about the death of Baddiel’s mother in 2014, and the process which follows in dealing with the loss of a close family member, and also about his father, suffering from Pick’s disease and in receipt of 24 hour care.
There is an irony to the title of the show, in that what Baddiel presents is the making of a fine sitcom. His parents, Sarah and Colin are fun, vibrant characters, full of life. Add into the mix a prolonged and public affair, an obsession with golf and a handful of well-chosen expletives and what you have are people you would want to invite into your home for half an hour a week to create laughter and mayhem in equal measures.
In the show, Baddiel talks about people at his mum’s funeral coming up to him and saying, ‘your mother was wonderful.’ While the word is perhaps accurate, the sentiment that people offer in these occasions are rather bland and banal, not wishing to cause offence or upset and hoping to add some comfort to the grieving family. Here, Baddiel spends two hours saying, ‘yes she was wonderful, but she was also a sex mad, erotica writing, obsessive, Jewish refugee cake arsonist.’ In short, she was a real person who was many things and to reduce her to a simple adjective is not enough. She lived and breathed and her joy of life is something still tangible and she lives on the laughter of the hundreds watching her middle son (who went to Cambridge University), on stage in the west end, sharing her spirit.
But what of his father, Colin? Actually Dr Colin Baddiel to be precise. Dementia is a complex illness, something that is not uniform in its affects of symptoms. Colin has Pick’s disease that has, it seem, polarised a particular part of his personality. So rather than destroy who he is, it has magnified that part of his persona that will flick the vs and tell you where to go (it rhymes with cough). Sadly, as is the case with the disease, there will be a decline and deterioration that is unavoidable. I hope that, when the inevitable arrives, David Baddiel will be able to find the laughter in the situation and enable him, and many others in similar situations, to find a way through.
We all know that death is something everyone will face. Let’s continue to laugh in it’s face and make grief that bit easier.