It’s not often that a show that appears, at face value, to be all over the place, adds to its power and value in its increasing messiness. The Father is quite a unique play, and – if I may be so bold – may well end up becoming a classic play from this era in generations to come. The various plot inconsistencies are laugh-out-loud funny to the very end, although underpinning them all is the gradual development of a form of dementia. The programme mentions Alzheimer’s disease specifically; the play itself does not in its script.
I know from experience how trying it can be to be without my watch, not wanting to attend to any other business until it’s been found, even if ‘found’ involves storming off to the high street in a huff and buying another one. So I was in total empathy with Andre (an astounding Kenneth Cranham) every time he was watch-less, Alzheimer’s or not, in need of a live-in carer or not, in need of a loving daughter, Anne (Amanda Drew), to pop in every now and then – or not.
Andre’s increasing inability to eventually recall very much at all is a most absorbing process to watch on stage, helped by an almost relentless focus on Andre. Kenneth Cranham is never off stage for very long at all. We learn comparatively little about any of the other characters, and what we do know is often contradicted because of the ever-expanding gaps in Andre’s memory; so much becomes unclear it becomes difficult to follow events. This draws the audience in all the more, and by the end of it all, we have been through a most extraordinary journey.
The music in between scenes is itself punctuated by pauses and micro-seconds of complete loss of sound; I thought of a scene in Billy Elliot The Musical where a cassette tape doesn’t play smoothly because the tape itself got unwound in transit. The set, too, gradually empties along with Andre’s memory, providing a multi-sensory experience and a palpable sense of proliferating bewilderment and frustration. We don’t even know who ‘Anne’ is before long – is it the character indeed played by Amanda Drew or is it the one listed in the programme as Woman (Rebecca Charles), who also at one point introduces herself as Anne? And where are we? Whose flat is this? And so on and so forth.
It really is rather heart-breaking, and, ironically enough, a show that I will not forget in a hurry. Its poignancy really lies in it being a personal survey of one man’s unsentimental final years. Not for this show any sort of academic discussion of how dementia develops. The punchlines can, admittedly, be sometimes dark, and occasionally rather shocking, with audible gasps emanating even from this unassuming audience. It was also unprecedented (to the best of my knowledge, at least: the show affected me to the point of distrusting my own recall) for me to welcome the whispered conversations that quickly struck up during scene changes – there is so much in this deep and touching play to think about and discuss that it’s no wonder people couldn’t wait.
“The play’s the thing,” so says Hamlet in a monologue in Shakespeare’s play of the same name, words applicable here in this thrilling and surprisingly enjoyable production. “That was the best play I’ve seen in years,” said my fellow theatregoer. It is indeed a remarkable achievement, and I am pleased to add to the plethora of praise for this sensitive and astounding play. It’s an utterly incredible show with humour and inner torment in equal measure. Live theatre at its finest.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Now eighty years old, Andre was once a tap dancer. He lives with his daughter Anne and her husband Antoine. Or was he an engineer whose daughter Anne lives in London with her new lover, Pierre? The thing is, he is still wearing his pyjamas and he can’t find his watch. He is starting to wonder if he’s losing control…
The Father is the winner of France’s highest theatrical honour, the 2014 Moliere Award for Best Play, and Christopher Hampton‘s crisp and witty translation, has dazzled audiences and critics alike. It has received an unprecedented ten five star reviews from major national newspaper critics.
2016 Best Actor Olivier Award winner Kenneth Cranham reprises his indelible performance for this tour, direct from the West End.
Cast: Kenneth Cranham, Amanda Drew, Rebecca Charles, Brian Doherty, Daniel Flynn and Jade Williams.
11th to 16th April 2016
Little Green, Richmond TW9 1QJ
Book Tickets for Richmond Theatre
25th to 30th April 2016
Theatre Royal Brighton
Book Tickets for Theatre Royal Brighton