by Florian Zeller translated by Christopher Hampton.
Tricycle Theatre 269 Kilburn High Road NW6 7JR To 13 June 2015.
Audio-described 4 June (+ Touch Tour 6pm).
Captioned 9 June.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed 2pm, Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7328 -1000.
Review: Carole Woddis 12 May.
A remarkable experience.
Florian Zeller, unknown to British audiences but fêted in France and elsewhere in Europe, has clearly been taking lessons from Harold Pinter. The Father reeks of contaminated emotions – barely disguised threats delivered under the most civilised of behaviours. Just the odd cuff round the ear is enough to reduce Kenneth Cranham’s father, André – described by his daughter Anne as, in younger years, “having authority” – to numb, shivering fear.
Not hard to find echoes of Lear here, with Claire Skinner’s luminous Anne a latter-day Cordelia. But everything about James Macdonald’s immaculate production – first seen last autumn in Bath – cries modernity. Spare, controlled, not a word or movement unmeaningful in Miriam Buether’s elegant Parisian setting that piece by piece becomes an empty, white-walled tomb.
Zeller’s The Father is about our mortal descent and the degeneration that casts once able-bodied individuals into the pit of mental confusion. Zeller may have taken lessons from Pinter, Beckett, Shakespeare et al. But the way he breaks our pattern of perception just as André is experiencing his break-up, is entirely his own.
By the end, like André, we end up wondering who and who not to believe; are these characters phantoms of his imagination, nightmares or a reality that he can barely comprehend?
Macdonald, mining every inflection from Christopher Hampton’s punctilious translation, backs-up the impression of a broken mind with clever inter-scene distortions of Bach at his most pure as if mirroring the increasing distortions of André’s mind.
In other hands, the play’s subject might easily have become sentimental. And indeed, the final scene of André clutching at his carer for comfort, reduced to calling for his mummy, touches at the deepest level.
Macdonald’s iron discipline ensures that this painful charting of the impact of mental collapse on family and carers never wavers. At one point Anne talks of murder; and we see how the increasing vagaries of André’s behaviour effects those around her including her less than sympathetic husband, Pierre.
By the time the true bereavement hits André and us, The Father has become an exceptionally moving testament to one of the tragedies of our age.
André: Kenneth Cranham.
Anne: Claire Skinner.
Pierre: Colin Tierney.
Laura: Jade Williams.
Man: Jim Sturgeon.
Woman: Rebecca Charles.
Director: James Macdonald.
Designer: Miriam Buether.
Lighting: Guy Hoare.
Sound: Christopher Shutt.
Associate lighting: Becky Stoddart.
This production of The Father was first staged in the Ustinov Studio at the Theatre Royal Bath in October/November 2014.
First performance at The Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn 7 May 2015.