Review: Daddy Issues at Seven Dials Playhouse

Written by Lewis Cornay and performed by Bebe Cave, Daddy Issues is a deceptively tough watch. It begins with a funeral for a dead dog, but before too long it becomes apparent that what this story is really about is a dead dad – and the confused, grieving daughter he left behind.

Photo credit: Helen Murray

It’s Halloween, and Imi (not Imogen) is live streaming to an initially indifferent public in memory of her late dog, Roger. As she reminisces about his tragically short life, she’s constantly interrupted by a disembodied male voice that it’s obvious only she can hear. This, we soon learn, is her father, who after years of battling depression, killed himself one year ago today. Over the course of the next hour, all Imi’s feelings of guilt, loss and anger will come spilling out for all the world to see – and it turns out the world wants to see, because as Imi falls apart, her viewer numbers finally begin to climb. Little comment is made about this, but by letting us see the numbers creeping upwards on a screen at the back of the stage, we’re allowed to draw our own conclusions about the dangers of social media, especially for the most vulnerable.

Having read the synopsis above, it may come as a surprise to learn that the play is billed as a comedy (albeit a dark one). But it’s important to note that Cornay never makes light of the play’s subject matter; all the humour – and there is plenty of it – comes from Imi herself, who makes jokes as a defence against her own darkness. This means that we like and can relate to her, and as a result what happens later in the play has a far greater emotional impact. Bebe Cave is excellent throughout, at first capturing to perfection the bright, brittle tones of someone playing to the camera, and later visibly unravelling in front of our eyes as she realises she can’t hide from reality, no matter how hard she tries.

Photo credit: Helen Murray

All the action takes place in the “granny annex” where Imi now lives, both literally and metaphorically distancing herself from the people who might be able to help her. Designer Andrew Exeter makes strong use of lighting to distinguish between Imi’s outer and inner monologues, and director Jane Moriarty has Cave very naturally cover every inch of the space, like a caged animal desperately seeking escape. With a storm brewing and the sea that played a key role in Imi’s bereavement lapping the shore just outside, the tension is palpable throughout.

Daddy Issues is a well written and brutally honest depiction of grief and depression, fuelled by a totally compelling performance which showcases all the emotions that come with bereavement, but which we may often not feel it’s appropriate to voice. Imi is falling apart while the internet watches on, but she’s also being open, perhaps for the first time, about how her dad’s suicide has affected her – and it’s in these moments that the play is at its most powerful. Not an easy watch, but well worth a visit.

Daddy Issues is at Seven Dials Playhouse until 19th November.

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