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Review of Fatherland at the Lyric Hammersmith

The cast of Fatherland at the Lyric Hammersmith. Photo by Tristram Kenton
The cast of Fatherland at the Lyric Hammersmith. Photo by Tristram Kenton

Three creatives, Scott, Karl and Simon (played by Declan Bennett, Mark Arends and Nyasha Hatendi) get together to make a show called Fatherland. They choose to interview men, asking them questions about their relationships with their fathers. The play that results from these verbatim interviews becomes the play-within-the-play; stories which bond a group of men together through fatherhood and masculinity; through fire and football, love and violence, romantic relationships and what it means to be a dad.

We hear a harrowing story of two boys whose father’s body literally melted into the bedsheets, from the firefighter who had to attend the scene. The language is graphic and sickening, as Mel (Michael Begley) speaks and sings coarsely, whilst climbing up a ladder that’s manoeuvred and supported by a huddle of firefighters at the bottom. If nothing else, we’re drawn in by the blunt disgust of this horror story. We hear about Craig’s (Tachia Newall) absent father, his mother’s teenage pregnancy, and his relationship with his own two daughters. And Steve’s (James Doherty) story of becoming a single dad after his wife leaves him, amongst others.

Yet there feels something inconsistent with this collage of words, music and movement that makes the whole thing seem somewhat disjointed. I can’t tell if it’s attempting a narrative and not quite getting there, or resisting a narrative but failing to really revolutionise form. At one point, Graham (Neil McCaul) is hooked up to a wire and flown briefly with the support of his fellow men, but it has a gimmicky quality to it. The whole show begs to be pushing physical boundaries, which I think is expected from the work of Frantic Assembly, but it doesn’t push to the limits of its materials; like the ladder, which Begley impressively climbs but does little else with; or the doors which Daniel (David Judge) moves in and out of, but stops at that. A moment where Begley moves under a ladder feels clumsy, and I can’t help but think this is intentional, but also can’t work out why.

Judge’s story and character is the one I find most intriguing. He moves with a delicacy and awkwardness that makes him stand out against the loud, verging-on-garish men who perform alongside him. He speaks of the inability within his family to express their love for each other and looks lost amidst a battle of toxic masculinity.

When it comes down to it, this show is heteronormative masculinity at its core. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but I think the result is that it alienates me. It’s very possibly crucial theatre for the men who fear emotion or whose relationships with their fathers are troubling, but as someone who fits into neither of these categories, I find it hard to relate. The stories are surface level in their telling – perhaps a result of the verbatim script – but I want something that goes beyond the surface and delves into the issues with a bit more depth. There’s a reoccurring motif made visual with the motion of stepping in and out of coats and jackets, but these and other ideas float in this production when I want them to land somewhere, or at least journey beyond the rim of the revolving stage.

Fatherland is at its best when it works with moving images, dance and song; when there’s a sense of danger or when we’re offered vulnerabilities. At other times its slow, dependant on an engagement that I’m just not tuned in with.

3 Star Review

Review by Joseph Winer

This bold new production, by Scott Graham, Karl Hyde and Simon Stephens, focusing on contemporary fatherhood in all its complexities and contradictions, premiered at the Royal Exchange Theatre as part of Manchester International Festival. Fatherland will open in May at the Lyric Hammersmith and will be a part of the 2018 LIFT festival.

This intensely physical production is performed by a 13-strong cast who will be joined by the Chorus of Others, a cacophony of voices, specially formed as part of Fatherland, for the production at the Lyric. Fatherland features exclusive songs and music written by Karl Hyde (Underworld) and Matthew Herbert.

Inspired by conversations with fathers and sons from Corby, Kidderminster and Stockport, the three co-creators’ hometowns, Fatherland explores identity, nationality and masculinity. In a vivid and deeply personal portrait of 21st-century England at the crossroads of past, present and future, Fatherland is a show about what we were, who we are and what we try to be.

Co-Author & Director: Scott Graham
Co-Author & Composer: Karl Hyde
Co-Author & Writer: Simon Stephens
Cast: Mark Arends (Karl), Declan Bennett (Scott), Nyasha Hatendi (Simon), Joe Alessi (Alan), Luke Brown (Martin), Craig Stein (Luke), Ankit Giri (Samir), Michael Begley (Mel), David Judge (Daniel), Neil Mccaul (Graham), Tachia Newall (Craig), Luke Rigg (Jack) and James Doherty (Steven).

Fatherland
25 May – 23 June 2018
Lyric Hammersmith
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