Notes on From Where I’m Standing, BAC
Nathan’s fifteen. He’s a mop-haired gangle in a polo skirt and a sleeveless sweater, patterned with the faint nostalgia of knitwear. There is a touch of Kes or Billy Elliot about him, as if somehow he ought to be running cock-a-hop and careless down a cobbled street. But he’s not. He’s darting across a stage in Battersea and throwing himself into his father’s cradling arms. He does it again and again. His father, Kevin – plainly dressed, slightly saggy of skin – staggers increasingly under the initial blow of weight, and holds his son softly for a moment before summoning the strength to throw him to his feet. Nathan bounds off, regains his balance, turns and hurls himself upwards once again.
For five minutes this continues and in this sequence – throwing and catching and jumping and rocking; breath deepening and sweat beading – is everything that From Where I’m Standing need say. In fact, it makes the rest pretty much redundant.
It speaks of trust and strain, of constancy and dependency, of strength, of fragility, of age, of youth, It speaks of you and your dad, me and my dad, him and his, her and hers, us and ours. And of ours and us, after the seismic shift of role where caught becomes cradle.
Most of all, it speaks of death. As the struggle increases – the step back growing more unsteady, the grimace more creased, arms wrenching themselves shakily into position – the transience of the relationship becomes clear. It contains its own negative image: the absence that will inevitably follow – whether empty space to cushion a fall with a stern bump or, arguably even more unthinkable, eager arms grasping at hollow air.
Elsewhere, From Where I’m Standing doesn’t achieve the same universality. It stands instead as testimony to the particular relationship between this child and that parent. Where it tries to do more, it strays too easily into obvious territory, such as untidy bedrooms and lazy teens. That’s not too problematic, though, given the warmth of its construction. To see these family members partaking in something together is enough. That they own it fully, right down to its untidiness and gag-heavy over-eagerness to please, is itself important. They smile at one another for support through vulnerability and expose each other’s foibles with gentle ribbing. Essentially, each parent-child pairing becomes its own double act, whether arching eyebrows in unison or outdoing one another with boasts. Though you sense it is too reductive to capture the essence of their everyday life, From Where I’m Standing is nevertheless wholly truthful within its context. It admits the presence of the stage and the audience, behaving accordingly.
Kevin’s considerably older than fifteen. His shoulders are rising and falling. Softly. Steadily. Trying to remain strong. You suspect he wants to place his hands on his knees and recover his breath, but he can’t. He’s standing upright, struggling. For a short while, he’s your dad and my dad, his and hers, all of ours. And in his struggle, his soft edges and his age is as poignant an image of impermanence as you’ll see. It’s enough to send you reaching for your phone to make the sort of call that only happens in films; the sort that just calls to say, “I love you. Thanks.”
Photograph: Junction 25