Duke of York’s, London, Saturday 2nd November, 2019
French playwright Florian Zeller’s searing family drama – helpfully and brilliantly translated into English by Christopher Hampton – deals with the effects on young lad Nicolas when his dad leaves his mum and sets up a new family with a new wife and a new baby. It’s not an uncommon situation but Nicolas takes it very badly, spiralling into mental illness and out of control.
Laurie Kynaston is magnetically good as the volatile Nicolas, going beyond teenage tantrums in his portrayal of the boy’s disturbance. It’s heart-breaking to watch and we feel as helpless as his baffled parents. Mum (Amanda Abbington) is forthright in her condemnation of her ex-husband’s inactivity. Dad (John Light) struggles to access his emotions but when he does, it’s explosive. New wife Sofia (Amaka Okafor) tries to make the best of things – such is Zeller’s writing, we appreciate everyone’s point of view.
Mostly, this is about the dynamics between father and son in the light of mental illness, as they try to negotiate a peace and a way forward. The play highlights how unprepared we are to deal with loved ones afflicted in this manner. “Love is never enough” says Martin Turner’s Doctor, rather starkly, as events culminate in devastating scenes.
Lizzie Clachlan’s set with its white walls and unfolding panels, showing rooms behind rooms, enables director Michael Longhurst to stage simultaneous scenes: while characters interact, we see someone else elsewhere in the house, and so on. The mess created by Nicolas is represented physically and symbolically.
Longhurst elicits powerful and compelling performances from everyone, compounding the sense of impending doom with Isobel Waller-Bridge’s unsettling sound design. It’s not all dread though; there’s a glorious scene of Dad-dancing (John Light has all the moves!) and the occasional glimmer of hope – making the darker moments all the more distressing.
Utterly compelling and almost unbearably moving, this is one of the most powerful pieces I have ever seen. I only wish I’d seen it before the final day of its run so I could go back and see it again!
Give it every award going!
John Light and Laurie Kynaston (Photo: Marc Brenner)
Leave a comment | tags: Amaka Okafor, Amanda Abbington, Christopher Hampton, Duke of York's, Florian Zeller, Isobel Waller-Bridge, John Light, Laurie Kynaston, Lizzie Clachlan, London, Michael Longhurst, review, The Son | posted in Review, Theatre Review
The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 3rd May, 2016
Florian Zeller’s hit play comes to Brum in this sharp translation by Christopher Hampton. It begins as a seemingly naturalistic portrayal of forgetful old man Andre (Kenneth Cranham) being visited by his daughter Anne (Amanda Drew). But then, disjoints appear. Contradictions arise. Who is the man who appears? Anne’s husband? Someone else? And that woman? Is she a new nurse? Or Andre’s other daughter? Lines of dialogue repeat and reoccur in different scenes. Meanwhile, subtly, the set is becoming barer – items of furniture, and Andre’s possessions, are disappearing, as his mind submits to encroaching dementia. The transitions add to the sense of confusion, plunging us into blackouts while disrupted music blares. Like Andre, we very soon don’t know who is who and what’s going on.
Of course, it’s only a glimpse into what it might be like to experience Andre’s confusion, terror and grief. As audience, we can piece together what is happening in a way that the ailing Andre cannot. It leads us to a devastating, heart-breaking final scene, powerfully played by Cranham, who is utterly convincing as the good-natured charmer, trying to keep his grip and fearing what is happening to him. A stunning portrayal.
He is supported by a striking cast, who show us the effects of dementia on others and also the sometimes shocking treatment of sufferers. Amanda Drew delivers a monologue about strangling her father, to give them both some sense of peace. It is emotive stuff, to be sure, but there is humour, due to the surviving remnants of Andre’s fading personality.
Director James Macdonald keeps us on our toes as we try to sift through the changing situations and Andre’s deterioration – sometimes the scenes are very short and we are soon plunging into darkness again. Miriam Buether’s design – Andre’s increasingly impersonal surroundings – and Guy Hoare’s cool (in the sense of cold) lighting add to the starkness.
Gripping, moving and, ultimately, bleak, The Father could well be the most powerful piece of theatre to be seen this year.
Pyjamas but no party: Kenneth Cranham (Photo: Simon Annand)
Leave a comment | tags: Amanda Drew, Christopher Hampton, dementia, Florian Zeller, Guy Hoare, James Macdonald, Kenneth Cranham, Miriam Buether, reivew, The Father, The REP Birmingham, theatre review | posted in Theatre Review