“I’ve got two dads.” Playwright, actor and spoken word artist David Judge’s latest play, SparkPlug, is inspired by autobiographical events: his mother is white, his biological father is black, and the father who raised him is white. Out of loyalty to the man who stuck with him through thick and thin, Judge uses this play to tell his story – in doing so, he also explores important issues such as racism and the meaning of masculinity. The play was a finalist for the prestigious Alfred Fagon Award for Best New Play in 2017, and this tour has been produced by Manchester-based Box of Tricks.
Dave is a huge Rod Stewart fan, obsessed with his Ford Capri, and in love with Joanne; the only slight snag is that Joanne is pregnant with another man’s child. Determined to be together, they create a home and a few months later welcome baby David into the world. Dave is smitten, and for a while family life couldn’t be much better – Dave’s Irish mother isn’t completely convinced, however, suggesting the couple have “one of their own”. As the 80s come to an end, little David is now at school, and things are getting more tense at home; the family setup is starting to stand out more, now that David is out in the world, and Joanne & Dave’s relationship is on the rocks. But if they do split up, what will happen to David?
What is immediately striking about this production is its visuals. Katie Scott’s design sees the multicoloured frame of a car ready to be put together (headlights and seats included), which helps to demonstrate the passing of time – it is capable of being extended and shortened, depending on the make & model of the car Dave owns at that particular point in the story. Surrounding the car are bits of memorabilia that evoke David’s childhood, including cassettes & a tape player, and a board game of The Bill (David’s favourite TV programme at the time); these assorted knick-knacks immediately take you back to the 80s and 90s, and are interesting to look at throughout the 70-minute play.
It is initially a bit confusing as to whose story is being told, as the play includes the line “I’ve got two dads” a few times early on, before he starts to talk about driving to meet his sister Angela – as well as the object of his affections, Joanne. At some point the focus switches from David to Dave, but it does take a short while to be totally sure that this is what has happened. It’s an incredibly fascinating story, and definitely food for thought. Would you be content to bring up a child that’s not biologically yours – or does it actually matter about their DNA? The context and environment is also really interesting, as race riots were rife in the early 80s (the play begins in Manchester in 1983), so David’s dual heritage and unconventional upbringing are significant for more than one reason.
SparkPlug is a touching tribute to the man that David Judge calls his father, and a testament to the importance of nurture over nature. Judge’s performance is full of energy and heart, playing to his strengths as both an actor and a performance poet; his passion for the story is clear, and it’s a story that needs to be told.
My verdict? A moving & entertaining play, performed with conviction by writer David Judge – the set design is a joy.