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Florian Zeller’s The Son at Duke of York’s Theatre | Review

Laurie Kynaston (Nicolas), Amanda Abbington (Anne). Credit Marc Brenner.
Laurie Kynaston (Nicolas), Amanda Abbington (Anne). Credit Marc Brenner.

Florian Zeller’s The Son is a beautifully written, totally involving play, at times riveting to watch, with not a word or action wasted. Thanks in part to Christopher Hampton’s superb translation from the French as well as Michael Longhurst’s imaginative direction, it is a gripping 110-minute tragedy.

The play is a poignant and searching exploration of adolescent depression, in this case the ‘son’, Nicolas, trying to cope with the break up of his parents’ marriage. We learn very quickly that he has not attended school for three months but has been ‘walking’ all day every day: a fact that his self-obsessed mother is not aware of, even though he has been living with her. When she belatedly tries to involve the father, now remarried with a baby, he refuses to believe that his actions have anything to do with it.

The whole play is so believable – many in the audience will perhaps find it uncomfortable viewing!

Whilst this is a truly ensemble production, Laurie Kynaston is completely watchable as Nicolas, the son of the title, getting the age and the naivety of the role from the outset: we truly understand the motivation behind everything he does and says.

Amanda Abbington is the divorcee Anne who finds it impossible to cope with life, let alone have time or energy for her son. There is a heart-rending scene towards the end of the play where she is sitting on the sofa with her ‘ex’ when she clearly thinks there might be a possibility of them getting back together – made ever more tragic by the fact that we the audience know that there isn’t.

John Light, as Pierre the father, is clearly not willing to even begin to understand that it is his actions which have precipitated his son’s actions. He is far too busy working as a lawyer to bother about anything – even his new wife! John Light’s performance is subtly nuanced and very believable.

Martin Turner, as the doctor/psychiatrist, is at his best when gently trying to persuade the parents that Nicolas needs specialist help: it’s as if he has been here far too many times before.

Amaka Okafor as Sofia, the ‘new’ wife needs to remind Pierre frequently that he now has a new family and does not see why she needs to be concerned about his previous relationship – Pierre needs to ‘move on’. Amaka is very convincing in this role, especially in the scene where she refuses to let Nicolas babysit whilst they go out to dinner for the first time for months, Pierre usually being far too busy.

In fact, the whole ensemble exhibits such naturalness that the audience is drawn in immediately to the problems of these characters: it all seems far too much like ‘real-life’.

The set, frequently abused by Nicolas, has been cleverly designed by Lizzie Clachan so that the action moves swiftly from one scene to the next, and Lee Curran’s lighting and Isobel Waller-Bridge haunting music aid the creation of appropriate mood throughout.

This is a strong play, powerfully staged, with something to say to all of us. Highly recommended – the best new play I have seen this year by a long way.

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

‘I’m telling you. I don’t understand what’s happening to me.’
Nicolas is going through a difficult phase after his parents’ divorce. He’s listless, skipping school, lying and thinks that moving in with his father and his new family may help. A fresh start. When he doesn’t settle there either, he decides that going back to his mother’s may be the answer. When change feels like the only way to survive, what will he do when the options begin to run out?

By Florian Zeller
In a translation by Christopher Hampton
Director: Michael Longhurst; Designer: Lizzie Clachan; Lighting Designer: Lee Curran
Composer and Sound Designer: Isobel Waller-Bridge; Casting Director: Amy Ball

Duke of York’s Theatre
St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2B 4BG
24 August – 2 November 2019


  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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