London Review

★★★★☆ Review: Lewis Cornay’s ‘Daddy Issues’ at Seven Dials Playhouse

CategoryScore (out of 10)
Direction (Jane Moriarty)7
Script (Lewis Cornay)8
Performance (Bebe Cave)8
Set Design (Andrew Exeter)7
Lighting Design (Andrew Exeter)7
Sound Design (Christopher Reid)7
Costumes (Sophia Pardon)7
Video (Lewis Den Hertog)7
Total58/80 (73%)
Final Score:★★★★☆

LONDON – Written by Offie award-winner Lewis Cornay and starring actress, writer and podcast host Bebe Cave, Daddy Issues is a devilishly dark comedy following 23-year-old Imi as she ruminates alone on Halloween. Throwing an online wake for her beloved dog Roger, Imi goes on to deliver sermons on Sir Cliff Richard and share her hatred for all things ‘Live, Laugh, Love’, all while being haunted by memories of those who have left her behind, as she fights to remember all the reasons why she must choose to live.

Directed by Jane Moriarty, Daddy Issues begins with a pre-show segment, where Imi is busy dabbling away in her basement, sticking decorations on the kitchen cabinets, preparing for an online wake for her dog, complete with an urn containing his ashes and a photo placed front and centre, and as morbid as it all is, seems appropriate. Imi’s own makeup is lined with dark mascara, an ’emo’ look, complete with scratched up leggings, half gloves and a ribcage-like top, and she looks proud of her handiwork as she snaps a selfie of the set-up.

But the spookiness is just the beginning, as we hear the sounds of children from neighbouring houses coming over to trick or treat, before she chases them away with a scare. As she finally sets up her ring light and begins her live show, she begins speaking to and addressing her viewers, all while maintaining steady eye contact with us and sipping a glass of port, the favourite drink of her granddad’s. It’s a clever way of both remaining in character for the purpose of her livestream, while also breaking the fourth wall with her ‘awareness’ of our presence.

The show starts off casually enough, as she leads in with some fun facts about various Halloween traditions around the world, considering the coincidental date of the memorial service, as she tries to lighten the mood. But things begin to shift as she reveals more of her personal life, sharing about her parents, a rare moment of vulnerability as we see the emotions coming through in her voice. As she puts on some music and gazes at her Cliff Richard calendar, she shares about how she got it for her granddad before his death. Her mum calls to check on her, and we’re reminded of just how young she is as she processes all this.

With the house situated near the water, we constantly hear the waves, and we think of the myriad of moods evoked in this show – enriching, depressing, sad but also calm at the same time. We’re also constantly haunted by the voices of her dad and granddad in her head throughout the show, almost as if her conscience is playing tricks on her mind. Putting on a Cliff Richard track, she begins to recite her eulogy for her dog. Yet this is interrupted, this time by the sound of her dad calling her by her full name ‘Imogen’. Retorting that she’s just Imi, we feel her pain and her want to shrink away, and live a separate life from all that pain.

Delving into more personal topics, things take a sudden turn for the worse, as her mood dips into the dark, sharing her thoughts on how death causes everything to go haywire. Rummaging through the cabinets, she discovers a bottle of Xanax (her granddad’s prescription), and shares about the various coping mechanisms people go through when dealing with the darkness in their own lives. But as much as we can numb it with pills or other methods, at the end of the day, her dad’s words ring true – it’s what we choose to remember, and learning to handle the truth in our own way as it comes at us. Perhaps there is indeed hope, and the calm after the storm, as we hear the sound of waves crashing in the distance.

But just as soon as that happens, she begins to feel claustrophobic, alone, her head filled with thoughts of death. No longe able to handle it, she then takes it out on the books and her couch. The whole theatre falls into a blackout, and as her mum calls, she finds herself at a loss, embarrassed and ashamed at her meltdown. She laments about how important mental health is and about seeking help, and we wonder how much help she herself can get.

Thought becomes action, and she stares down at a pile of Xanax. Swallowing them all before downing it with water, it’s heartbreaking to see her give up after showing so much strength prior. Sadness takes over, and we realise how much of an uphill battle against mental illness she’s been fighting this whole time. In her delusional state, she thinks she hears her dog bark, and pulls out a drawing of her family. Mumbling to herself, she crawls into a corner, calling out for her dad, and finally sheds her tough exterior to be completely, totally raw in her emotions.

But as we see a single white feather drop from the ceiling, Imi has a sudden change of heart, perhaps realising someone out there, a guardian angel or even the soul of someone she once knew looking down upon her. Even when things seem at their lowest and most hopeless, there are still things worth living for, and in a triumphant finale, she chooses life over death, and throws up the pills she swallowed. Picking up the phone and calling her mum, it’s a small but important first step to recovery, and perhaps finally, get over her grief.

Daddy Issues runs from 24th October to 19th November 2022 at Seven Dials Playhouse, 1a Tower Street, London WC2H 9NP. Tickets and more information available here

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