David Baddiel: My Family Not the Sitcom is patently not a sitcom, being one man on a stage, but it could translate into one.
‘When family members die, or are lost to dementia, all we need to say about them is that they were wonderful. But if that is all you can say about them, you may as well say nothing: to truly remember our loved ones, you have to call up their weirdness, their madness, their flaws.’
This is the introduction to David Baddiel: My Family Not the Sitcom premiering now at the Menier Chocolate Factory. It’s patently not a sitcom, being one man on a stage, but it could translate into one.
Onto the stage, set with a multiplicity of family snaps, steps casually dressed David Baddiel. The audience recognizes him with applause and Baddiel begins a two-hour long spiel that purports to be a play about things we don’t usually talk about. Some would say we don’t talk about them with good reason however Baddiel obviously sees this as an homage to his parents.
The set works well, being both stylish and utilitarian, the largest of the frames hosting a number of visual aids and videos to punctuate the speech. Portrait photographs appear in the mirrors by its side.
Baddiel’s mother is introduced in the first half of the show as a picture of a much loved mother. The same love shines through in the second act, devoted more to the father. It is evident in the relating of all the intimacies, family tales and foibles, and there are a few, that there is much love in this family.
The material is funny, often in that ‘Oh my god I can’t believe I’m laughing at that. That’s so wrong’ sense. After all, Baddiel is talking about his dead mother and dementia suffering father.
But it is what he says here that marks the differential point. He discusses his mother’s open attitude to sex and the very long adulterous affair she had with a man he names and identifies, even though his mother kept the man’s identity a secret from her husband (apparently). Not to be left out, the father’s interest in obscenity and penchant for prostitutes is also subjected to vivid scrutiny.
Deeply developed black-humour funnybones are required to cope with this intrusion into the security of the circle of close friends and family. Is the public airing of the skeletons/indiscretions in the family closet artistic or offensive?
As always, the answer is left to the individuals in the audience.
For many, there might be a reflection of their own situations bringing recognition and empathy; for some, this may just be a case of too much information and perhaps “WTF?”