By Hamish Stening
Daughter, presented as part of the Sydney Festival, was, quite simply, a brilliant piece of theatre. Insightful, important and extremely well executed, Daughter, represented and critiqued toxic masculinity in a way that was so clever and powerful that the show stands apart from any that I have previously seen. In what has already proven to be a very successful and high-standard Sydney Festival, this may just go down as the highlight.
The show opens with writer and performer Adam Lazarus walking out onto a bare stage decorated only with a stool with a set of speakers, a phone, and a glass of water. He delivers what really is a stand-up routine, talking about his dance parties with his daughter, the hilarious story of her birth, and other anecdotes. The father's love and devotion for his wife and daughter, as well as his brilliant visual comedy and comic timing, make him very likeable, a device most important as the stories he tells gradually become more and more horrific.
He tells of his first time accidentally drinking urine as a 5-year-old; how he used to scare the cootie-phobic girls with the threat of kisses; the time he and a group of friends scared a girl into an asthma attack. Eventually, after dozens more hilarious yet progressively more and more concerning stories of his past, he recounts the time he punched his 16-year-old mistress in the face, breaking her eye-socket, after she had asked for a little "violence" to spice up their drug-fueled sex-life. On his reenactment of the punch, the lights flash and darken leaving only a spotlight on Lazarus. This is the first lighting change up until this point, and adds greatly to the shock. This is not a show for the faint of heart.
The exact point at which Lazarus' stories had shifted from “humorous” to "definitely not okay" varied for different audience members, but after this moment, the audience is in agreement. This is certainly not okay.
At this point, everyone is deathly silent, and, if they are like me, feeling very guilty. We had laughed at many of the previous stories that in hindsight we should have flagged as unacceptable. We were supporting not critiquing. The stories only get worse from there and the show functionally becomes a bouffon; a mockery of what society looks like and what we fail to stop. By the end, Lazarus has critiqued porn, domestic violence, and traditional ideals of manhood and masculinity. He has portrayed very plausible scenarios and raised very genuine concerns, but he gives no solutions. Of course there are no obvious solutions, especially because toxic masculinity is so hard to define and it is hard to know where to draw the line between acceptable and not, but Lazarus makes it very clear that society's complicity (or worse deliberate ignorance) of toxic masculinity is shameful. This message is conveyed not through lecture but through taking on an emotional rollercoaster. Lazarus manipulates the audience into feeling happy and content, and then very suddenly shocked and guilty. This is very difficult task and would not have been possible without every single element of the show being refined and well executed.
The script is incredibly tight, the direction and blocking very clever, and the lighting and sound design brilliant. The show is very well paced with each story the perfect amount more controversial than the one that preceded it, and that slow progression means that everyone, from the most astute feminist to the most clueless footy player, will be tricked by this show.
Daughter is remarkable and so important. I pray that it comes back to Sydney one day.
Photo Credit: Victor Frankowski
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.