Who Killed My Father at the Young Vic
Édouard Louis is one of the most revered writers to emerge from France in recent years. His autobiographical novels explore many of the troubles and traumas he experienced growing up. From living in poverty to being the victim of homophobic abuse, Louis has turned such negatives into respected art.
Now he is gifted the Ivo Van Hove treatment in this adaption of Who Killed My Father. The director is known for his often-stripped-down productions and a fondness for incorporating multimedia. Last at the Young Vic with the highly acclaimed A View from the Bridge, this is another production with a quietly brooding energy and subtlety – but which knows when to heighten appropriate moments.
Hans Kesting, who has collaborated with Van Hove on numerous occasions, is in the driving seat of this single-hander. Édouard returns to visit his dying father after a lengthy period away. Surprised at the sight of the ailing man before him, he is forced to question the actions and lifestyle of his father and the one bestowed on him in his youth; violence and heavy drinking were the norm and Édouard grew up a stranger in his own home.
Kesting plays both father and son, seamlessly switching roles and making effective use of body language and voice changes. There are many reflective pauses but also sudden bursts of energy, especially when the actor conveys the character in his younger days. A performance of Aqua’s Barbie Girl gets some laughs, as does unexpected footage of Titanic along with a rendition of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On.
There are also times when the pace falls slightly flat; repetition creeps in with points being overly expressed. The subject matter is of course also heavy with homophobia, toxic masculinity, bullying, violence and abuse, which permeate throughout, but these characters are complex and well-rounded and all the more absorbing for it.
It takes an actor of exceptionally high calibre to carry a production such as this, and Kesting delivers. The lengthy standing ovations on press night are more than deserved. The actor has a great deal to do and a great many lines to remember, and he does it alone on a sparse and simple set – only a TV on the floor and a bed join him on stage, leaving the writing and the performance to engage the audience for 90 minutes straight.
When the attention turns to the political as the father bemoans the class system and the issue of poverty, it feels timely and relatable. The way society shapes us is also interestingly explored. There is a great deal packed in here and a lot for the audience to digest but the performance alone is more than justification for it to be seen.
Photos: Jan Versweyveld
Who Killed My Father is at the Young Vic from 7th September until 24th September 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: