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11th February 2019

Preview: David Judge’s Sparkplug at HOME

Race, Identity and Masculinity: Anuli Changa speaks to writer-actor David Judge and Director Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder about the touring production of Sparkplug
Preview: David Judge’s Sparkplug at HOME
In Rehearsal: David Judge Photo: @DecoyMedia

“My black father left before I was born, my mother left when I was seven to chase her own sexuality”.

Self-described “first generation, light brown Mancunian”, David Judge was raised by a “working class white man (named Dave) from a council estate in Manchester, with tattoos on his knuckles and ‘Mum’ on his arm”.

Judge explained to me that he was encouraged to create Sparkplug by theatre company Box of Tricks. He was adamant he wanted to tell his story without agendas, often feeling that black companies want him to hate and shun the white man, in direct conflict with his own upbringing.

Judge expressed the need not to segregate himself, “the heart of this play is about seeing the individual” rather than wider racial agendas. He explained to me that growing up, he didn’t focus on connecting to black culture because this limited him. More importantly, he defines himself as a Mancunian; “Manchester is both gay, black, football and music,” and more.

Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder and David Judge knew each other before this project and this personal connection was evident in speaking to them, both at ease in conversation as Tyrrell-Pinder explained creating the boundaries and “balance between the character onstage and the truth behind it all”, Judge’s personal story. Their creative connection was clear in their ability to share and develop each other’s thought processes.

Originally Sparkplug had been planned to be played by a white actor telling the story, but then shifted to Judge telling the story and framing the “metatheatrics” of his own experiences. Tyrrell-Pinder acknowledged that this made the process “Both simpler and more complicated”, again returning to boundary laying in this autobiographical performance.

Uniquely, Judge explained that he has written the piece with“two beginnings depending on the casting”, whether it is performed in the future by a white or mixed race actor. He noted that the “British mixed race” experience is unique, as it is such a broad term and he is keen for to make it possible for this story to “be told by other people.”

Judge smilingly explained the childhood confusion of growing up in the 80s “comfortable using the word half-caste” to describe himself until political correctness changed the rules and suddenly he was “not allowed to say” half-caste at “eight years old.” We discussed the different ways the term mixed race can be interpreted and Judge expressed his impatience with auditioning for generic BAME characters and he also stated that mixed race “means nothing, it’s lazy”.

So, why is it called Sparkplug? To my delight, David pulled out an answer in the form of a spoken word piece. “My job as my dad’s son would be to clean the sparkplug” which creates the spark for the engine. “There was always a sparkplug lying around, in the garden, toolbox, toybox, in my memory” and “David is Dave’s sparkplug”.

This story is unique an unapologetically individual; I cannot wait to see it brought to life onstage.

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