The Father at the Duke of York’s Theatre
“We will all be old eventually,” the central protagonist of Florian Zeller’s The Father, reminds us, rendering it a depressingly universal play. In Christopher Hampton’s translation of the young Frenchman’s work, the audience are not preached to or lectured about Alzheimer’s. Instead the production plunges spectators into the confused mental landscape of Andre, so that we, too, feel how we are “losing all of our leaves” to the harsh wind of the disease.
At first the audience’s role appears to be firmly spectatorial, with the box set resembling a television screen. Eventually, this barrier between what is happening on stage and the audience breaks down; staging is used to replicate Andre’s confusion, which onlookers also participate in. Scenes are cut short after crucial moments, the stage is blacked out, accompanied by surreal flashing lights and classical electronic music, which crackles like an ageing record – a powerful dramatisation of memory loss. Each time the set is re-revealed something has changed or scenes are replayed with slight variations: the same actors play different characters or conversations are altered slightly. The audience are left confused. Is it all a trick? Who are these characters? What’s happened to the flat?
There are Pinteresque touches, such as this underlying sense of threat. The motif of male power is also explored as Andre becomes more confused the male figures in his life become more threatening. Disturbingly, viewers can never be certain if the figures really are threatening or if it is Andre’s imagination.
Kenneth Cranham is utterly convincing. He skilfully plays Andre as a three-dimensional, real person and captures the layers of the character. His initial forgetfulness is comic, but as the play progresses his presence on stage diminishes. There is never a point in the production when he falls into the trap of playing the dotty, stereotypically senile man. The excellent Amanda Drew, as his daughter, conveys the stoicism and strain of caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s.
The Father is a devastating and acutely real portrait of dementia, and the effect it has on family. It takes the audience right into the condition, which is where the play triumphs above other depictions of this cruel disease. This is a must-see.
The Father is on at the Duke of York’s Theatre from 24th February 2016 until 26th March 2016. Book your tickets here.