views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Banjo Man
Etcetera Theatre
8th August 2015

★★★★☆

Publicity image for Banjo Man

Photography provided by The Camden Fringe

A long time ago, I began writing a letter to someone dear to me. I never finished it before she died, and that's something I'll always regret - missing out on that very last exchange. Grief and lost opportunities to say goodbye are no stranger to Quina Chapman, whose father, Roger Dinsdale, suddenly disappeared from her life six years ago. Given Dinsdale was a gifted musician who toured worldwide and Chapman has inherited his creativity, an hour-long fringe show featuring live songs seems the only possible tribute. Banjo Man is not just a piece of theatre, it's Chapman's eulogy to her dad from one entertainer to another.

Banjo Man kicks off with some music, rather than a spoken introduction. Chapman's lyrics are simple, perhaps overly so. However, she has a deliciously soulful voice, which adds plenty of depth and meaning. Grief is such a visceral emotion, often it's the intonation that conveys it rather than the words themselves. The most touching moment comes from Chapman singing live against a video clip of her father playing the banjo - after sharing with us she refused to sing with him in life out of embarrassment and fear, Chapman putting that right in front of us is unspeakably moving.

You may not know who Dinsdale was by the start of the show but Chapman is determined to make sure you do by the end of it. He was the person responsible for the banjo riff on 90s hit Swamp Thing (you may not recognise that title, but when you hear the track, you'll know it), but more importantly, he was her dad. She remembers her childhood affectionately - when her father introduced her to her baby brother, the moment she brought home a school friend who outraged him with her lack of Jimi Hendrix knowledge. She fondly describes her parents as a pair of hippies, injecting humour into the show with plenty of personal anecdotes.

It's tempting to make saints of the dead, but Chapman hints that her father wasn't always without fault, mentioning the breakdown of her parents' marriage. It can be hard admitting that our loved ones aren't completely perfect, particularly to a room full of strangers, but this small nod humanises Dinsdale and it makes his story more memorable. The whole point of Chapman's show after all is to ensure he's never forgotten, and when you're shown a person in all three dimensions, they stay with you.

The use of video and photographs adds even more weight to this emotional piece - a young Dinsdale leaning forward and smiling warmly at us perfectly captures the man Chapman tells us about. The ending is a nice idea, if lacking in practicality - there was some desperate scrabbling around and whispers of "but what do I do?" from the audience, who after spending 60-minutes hooked by Chapman's storytelling weren't all nimble-fingered enough to join in.

Life is already too full of missed opportunities, trust me on that. Don't miss your chance to see Chapman's very personal and poignant one-woman show.

Banjo Man opened on 7th August and runs until 9th August 2015 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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