The Father at Richmond Theatre
Directed by James MacDonald and written by Florian Zeller (hailed as one of France’s greatest literary talents), The Father is about the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. Having won the 2014 Moliere award for best play, the work has received great acclaim in the US and the UK following its translation into English by Christopher Hampton.
Kenneth Cranham succeeds remarkably as the father, Andre, whose Alzheimer’s becomes progressively difficult and confusing. Throughout we witness a struggle as his daughter, well played by Amanda Drew, grapples to cope with her father’s illness, as he denies it, even mocking those with dementia while becoming increasingly befuddled and disoriented: “I can’t leave you on your own” … “That’s insulting”.
The Father’s uniqueness is its inclusion of the audience in Andre’s confusion. We are taken through a maze of shifting realities. Is his daughter moving to London? Is she married? Is she living with her boyfriend in Paris? Is this Andre’s apartment, his daughter’s, or a nursing home? Why does the furniture keep disappearing? Why do people seem to change identity? Why do conversations and phrases repeat themselves? The experience is exhausting as certainties are gradually replaced with vacancy, and we watch Andre’s digression from a feisty, independent charmer to a distressed child, crying out for his mother.
As a series of vignettes divided by the sound of a cracked Bach piano record and a strange lighted frame around the stage that recalls a TV set, the tone is disconcerting and sinister, highlighting the fear involved in losing one’s mind. Andre’s struggle is painful to witness. His daughter Anne is wracked with anxiety and mixed feelings, even dreaming of murdering her father. Her alternate mates (boyfriend/husband) are disdainful and physically violent toward Andre, and whether this is real or Andre’s imagination we cannot be sure.
With echoes of Kafka and King Lear, The Father is a highly theatrical study of Alzheimer’s and the child-parent relationship, with its mixed feelings of love and anger and the way it tests patience. Points of compassion, however, provide some light in the piece, such as a moment of love in which Andre kisses his weeping daughter.
As a French play, The Father has a distinct cultural theatrical style that may have been somewhat lost in translation. However, although disturbing to watch, this work is compelling and intriguing as a unique depiction of the anguish of Alzheimer’s and its devastating effect on all involved.
The Father is on at Richmond Theatre from 12th until 16th April 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch a trailer for The Father here: