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Review of Hard Graft at Ovalhouse

Hard GraftLast night I attended the Opening night of “Hard Graft. A solo performance about feeling close and feeling far away from your family”. The show runs until 11th April with a post-show talk with the creative team after tonight’s show. (Thursday 9th April)

“Hard Graft” forms part of Ovalhouse’s spring season, a season dedicated to the discourse regarding what is public and what is private and what happens when we are forced to choose between ourselves and something bigger. In their words, you are invited to join them to figure out “where YOU ends and WE begins”.

David Sheppeard, performs his one-man piece at Ovalhouse Upstairs, a small black box theatre where the audience members share benches and can see each other’s reactions throughout the show. This seating plan is not necessarily comfortable for all of the audience members yet it cleverly mirrors the awkward and self-conscious persona that David portrays through the piece.

It’s a short piece at 60 minutes with David drawing upon personal history, biography, history, facts and fictions. David utilises various mediums of storytelling that combine the spoken word, image, movement, props and sculpture to inform and shape his performance.

David starts the piece by checking that his Dad isn’t in the audience. David is making a show about his dad, but he doesn’t want him to see it. The piece starts with David talking directly to us, the audience. He states a truism – children either have an awkward relationship with their father, or they haven’t realised they have! This is met with our awkward laughter, already we know that the piece is going to be as much about us as is it about him. David then goes on to tell us that he is going to share with us what he knows about his dad and why he reverts back to an adolescent teenager whenever he makes his annual visit to the parental home.

What follows is a very clever piece that is both self-referencing and universally true. David touches on his personal lexicon of self, coupled with his desire to understand why his father had him, or rather why he exists in this world today. David talks about how the men within his Sheppeard family tree have changed through the generation; each generation wishing more for their own children. The piece references his history born from a small mining town in South Wales to a self-confessed, self-obsessed, slightly paranoid, slightly bitchy artistic self who defines the end of his family linage.

Although intellectual and wordy from the outside, for me, the piece is very accessible, David possesses the ability to paint vivid images that are easily recognisable. We have all been there, we recognise the moments he is talking about; each member of the audience has been that person and felt what David felt. When he speaks, David beautifully paints pictures in our minds, echoing moments from his past, tableau images come to our imagination of various characters from his journeys, people and places we recognise from our past and popular culture.
We aren’t asked to judge David in the piece, and I didn’t. I do however, start to judge myself, my opinions, what do I know about my family, and what does my dad know about his dad. Where do we fit in to this world that is driven by technology and the millennial generation?

After the show my friend and I talked about the piece for over 2 hours. For me that is fabulous. We deconstructed the piece and re-constructed David’s world and our own. We came to realise that history is important, if only so we don’t repeat the same mistakes ourselves.

4 stars

Review by Faye Stockley

Hard Graft by David Sheppeard
A funny and poignant solo performance about feeling close and feeling faraway from your family.
Wed 8 Apr – Sat 11 Apr, 8:30pm
FULL: £10:00 CONCESSION: £6.00

Thursday 9th April 2015

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