A Prayer For My Daughter

Published April 17, 2008

As 80s pastiche Ashes To Ashes dominates headlines about television cop shows, this week proves timely for the opening of Thomas Babe’s A Prayer For My Daughter at the Young Vic, as the story follows the interrogation of two crooks by two unscrupulous officers in a hot, New York police station. Matthew Amer was in the first night audience.

Stepping into the main house of the Young Vic for a new play has become an event in itself. The seating is rearranged for each new production, so even the look and feel of the auditorium comes as a surprise. Designer Giles Cadle has placed the audience in two banks, facing each other across a strip of central stage depicting a New York police office complete with filing cabinets, cluttered desks and the discarded trappings of the 4 July celebrations.

This is no scene of fun and jollity though; the protagonists more party poopers than party poppers. Two hardened cops put two possible murderers through the wringer to discover who pulled the trigger in the shooting of an old lady. Their routine is less good cop/bad cop, more bad cop/worse cop as they use violence, abuse and narcotics to solve the crime.

Yet the crime itself, though central in bringing the quartet together, seems insignificant for much of the play. Talk wafts around it like the smell of stale alcohol around Matthew Marsh’s drunken police officer, a man who can no longer communicate with the women in his life, preferring instead to block them out by immersing himself in work. The suicide threat of one daughter hangs over the evening’s proceedings more than thought of the crime itself.

Far from being a simple whodunit, Babe’s play breaks down into a series of two-handed scenes pitting cop against crook, intellect against intellect, man against man, inviting tales of masculinity, examination of sexuality and discussion of the effects of many types of ‘daughter’.

Colin Morgan returns to the Young Vic, where he made his stage debut in Vernon God Little, delivering a twitchy, cheek-chewing, squinty-eyed, head-squirming Hispanic junkie. It is an attention-grabbing performance contrasted with Sean Chapman’s measured, calm, precise fellow con, a Vietnam vet irrevocably changed by the experience.

Police brutality, corrupt techniques and untrustworthy evidence are the building blocks of many a cop show. A Prayer For My Daughter chooses not to question them, leaving them instead as a backdrop against which to examine bigger questions.

A Prayer For My Daughter runs at the Young Vic until 15 March.

MA