by Florian Zeller translated by Christopher Hampton.
Ustinov Studio Theatre Royal Saw Close BA1 1ET To 15 November 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 1hr 40min No interval.
TICKETS: 0125 448844.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30 October 2014.
Beautifully organised script that puts order into chaos, in a splendid, sympathetic production.
In this autumn’s three Black comedies, the Ustinov follows Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Play Strindberg – related to the Swedish dramatist’s work – with Florian Zeller’s The Father, a Strindberg title, but otherwise having only a tangential link to him (in both, for different reasons, a once-authoritative father becomes powerless, a prisoner of those around him).
French writer Zeller covers the territory of mental decay as it gradually invades André’s life. Initially, the impact’s quite comic, with allegations care-workers are stealing from him. But we’re not far into things before the tone darkens, and the audience too has their perceptions destabilised.
Who is imagining what? Can we believe what we see? Or are we seeing behaviour as interpreted by André? A mix of low-key, yet never relaxed performances, some quick switches between characters and the casting (with suitable low-key playing) of some near lookalike actors, adds to the confusion.
Among the perfect playing, never intruding on character with self-conscious performance tricks, Lia Williams stands-out as Anne, the well-intentioned daughter who needs to live her own life, She knows a difficult decision has to be faced, handling it as sympathetically as possible, listening to her father, but no longer letting him determine the course of events. Patient and considerate, she is determined not to put her own life any longer on hold.
Kenneth Cranham provides a touching, unsentimental portrait of someone whose confidence is slowly undermined as the characters are not who they are supposed to be, nor the incrementally vanishing furniture where it ought to be. As the stage empties, André’s self-confidence disappears, leading to sadness and despair.
In a startlingly detailed performance, Cranham moves through emotions of frustration, humour and confusion, showing disintegration of mind and personality.
As the flow of keyboard counterpoint between scenes becomes disrupted and distorted, director James Macdonald moves inexorably into the character’s experience. Thanks to him, to Laurence Boswell who devises these Ustinov seasons, and Bath Theatre Royal’s adventurous management, which supports this far from commercially certain programme, the Ustinov has become a beacon for adventurous international drama presented with enviable quality of acting and production.
André: Kenneth Cranham.
Anne: Lia Williams.
Pierre: Colin Tierney.
Laura: Jade Williams.
Man: Brian Doherty.
Woman: Rebecca Charles.
Director: James Macdonald.
Designer: Miriam Buether.
Lighting: Guy Hoare.
Sound: Christopher Shutt.