“I’ve got two dads. The only thing the black one gave me was ethnicity”.
David Judge grew up on the Wythenshawe council estate in Manchester as a mixed race kid with two white parents. SparkPlug is his autobiographical monologue, wherein he moves the narrative up a generation, telling his story from the perspective of his adoptive dad, Dave. They share the same name, they share an inseparable bond, but don’t share the same DNA.
Judge’s play depicts his dad’s decision to raise a child, despite not being the biological father, sincerely showing the joys, and difficulties, of parenthood. SparkPlug also exposes the racial prejudices faced by a mixed race boy growing up in a predominantly white neighbourhood.
Dave loves his Ford Capri, he loves Joanne, he loves listening to Rod Stewart ‘knicker flickers’ as he drives from Wythenshawe, down Princess Parkway, to Moss Side. Realising that Joanne is pregnant to another man’s child, he makes the decision to raise David as his own, starting a new life.
“I’m going to be David’s dad. Even if the colour of his skin is different to mine”.
The stage is adorned with the frame of Dave’s adored Ford Capri, which serves as a giant Meccano-esque timepiece. Judge shortens the frame, clips on a new number plate and new headlights, signifying the different cars he owns over the years. Exchanging the Ford Capri for a Fiat 126, it is an inspired way to simultaneously represent the passage of time and the sacrifices his father made in becoming a parent.
There is no doubt that Judge is a gifted storyteller. His writing is elegant and poetical. He adds a passionate emotional depth to his performance by enacting all the roles himself, bringing a multitude of characters to life, from his mum, social workers, and bullies to his old-school Irish grandmother, who fails to accept her ‘foreign’ grandson. “Why have you still got THAT with you?”, she asks Dave, with a fear in her eyes.
SparkPlug convincingly portrays the highs and lows of parenting, providing a profound insight into the world of fatherhood. Judge deftly changes the play’s tone from romantic relationships, humorous snapshots of David growing up, to a blistering encounter with a social worker who questions “how are you helping the child engage with his roots?” despite him being born and raised in Manchester. The relentless racial prejudice he faces causes Dave to bottle up anger, brilliantly captured by Judge cutting his dialogue short, leaving intense dramatic pauses.
This pent up anger then explodes in SparkPlug’s climax as Dave finds an outlet for his anger. Judge brutally enacts his father arguing, fighting in brawls and constantly being imprisoned, before a hit and run driver forces him to change his ways. The violent intensity of these scenes is terrifying to behold. Judge works himself into a rampage, venting repressed anger, showing the consequences of constant racial discrimination.
SparkPlug successfully combines passionate storytelling with a compelling narrative, creating an incredibly powerful piece of theatre. It is refreshing to see a play written and told by a working-class voice from Wythenshawe. I grew up in this neighbourhood, and still live there, so I loved seeing my hometown represented on stage!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
It is on at HOME, Manchester until Saturday 23rd February, before embarking on a national tour.