Saturday, 22 April 2017

Politics and Parenthood

Dad Joke written and performed by Mark Swivel
The Street, 21-23 April

Describing himself as something between a storyteller and a stand-up comic, Mark Swivel commands the small stage of The Street 2. His premise is that he has to deliver a speech on the event of his son's 21st birthday and he is a little nervous. They have a perfectly fine relationship (about as good as a father can have with his son who lives on the other side of the world), but he claims to be struggling with the fine line between proud dad and aged embarrassment. He asks the audience to help as he runs through his rough draft, and he is so personable and charming that we all comply with his request.

Of course this is all a ruse, designed for Swivel to show off his intelligence, humour, range of subjects, and even a pretty decent singing voice. His renditions of Russian folk songs - "we have no idea what the words mean, but they sound good" - segue seamlessly into musings of political icons both Australian and British - "Anyone remember David Cameron?" He regales us with tales of his own upbringing in the days before one had to engage with one's children, and during which his dad used to drop cryptic one-liners when he came in from removing leaves from the pool "like a wistful gondolier". His reminisces are touching and remarkably poignant, especially when he talks about dealing with a parent toward the end of their life. 

There are many different styles of parenting these days: snow-plough; free-range; helicopter; attachment; cotton wool; combine-harvester... okay, I admit I made that last one up. Although the first recorded use of the word in this sense comes from the 1660s, the word 'parent' was not widely recognised as a verb until recently. It stopped being a thing one just was, and became a thing one had to do, and at which one could be judged. And boy, how we love to judge! There is so much expectation and pressure involved that the whole business (and it is increasingly a business - isn't everything?) becomes quite stressful. One of the best ways to deal with pressure and stress is to laugh at it, and ourselves, and Swivel does that expertly.

At the end of the evening we have learned a lot about Mark Swivel and his family. He cleverly polishes the poignant memories and anecdotes, mining them for the humour without discarding the essence. But this is more than just personal, or political, or even social (and there is a social justice warrior lying very close to the surface). It is an engaging evening such as you might have with your mates down the pub as they confide their hopes and fears to you. I haven't got kids; I didn't grow up in Australia and I haven't had to bury my parents (although even thinking about it brings a lump to my throat), but I was fully engaged throughout the hour-long "slightly inebriated TED talk". Mark Swivel's riffing on parenthood and politics crosses continents and generations - it's a great night out and highly recommended.

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