Forgiveness review – new dad Jonny Donahoe returns to childhood trauma

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Old Town Hall, Hemel Hempstead
Donahoe tells the story of his partner, Josie Long’s pregnancy, and how approaching parenthood revived memories of abuse


It’s called Forgiveness but that’s not the keynote of Jonny Donahoe’s solo show. He calls himself a storyteller but this meditation on trauma, fear and love barely coheres into a story. Forgiveness is too fractured and unresolved for that. You have to respect Donahoe’s refusal to wrangle this raw material, addressing how new parenthood prompted a reckoning with the childhood trauma he had long run from, into a neat narrative shape. There’s a deficit in dramatic terms: the show isn’t always gripping. But you never doubt its honesty, or the hard-won nature of the truths it unfolds.

Donahoe’s tale begins on a trip to San Francisco with his partner, the comedian Josie Long. Long discovers she’s pregnant; Donahoe (a musical comic himself with his band Jonny and the Baptists) has a panic attack, then locks himself in a dark room for a fortnight. Childhood, we learn, has negative connotations for Donahoe: his was blighted by abuse. Memories – some vague, some maybe even unreliable – now refuse to be stifled. Donahoe must tell his story, he says, to make moving on and becoming a father possible.

There’s lightness in the conversational moments when Donahoe engages the crowd, and in his reverence for his partner, and their new arrival

But are stories the solution or part of the problem? Forgiveness, directed by P Burton-Morgan, is much exercised by this question. A substantial portion finds Donahoe ruminating over what he is telling us and why. The show runs along twin tracks – shards of childhood memory spliced into the linear tale of Long’s pregnancy and birth – but the impact of the former on the latter is not always clear. His story of expectant fatherhood, with its trips to Ikea and deep dives into parenting literature, is not a remarkable one.

Related: In praise of fathers: the making of the modern dad

Donahoe is still processing what he endured as a child. With many a brooding pause, he gives full account of his conflicted feelings and this stuff feels still raw. But there’s lightness, too, in the conversational moments when he engages the crowd, and in his reverence for his partner and their new arrival. This isn’t a perfectly constructed show, but in its intimacy and cautious hope, it is unquestionably affecting.

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