The Father

Theatre, West End
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 (© Simon Annand)
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© Simon Annand

Claire Skinner (Anne) and Kenneth Cranham (Andre) in 'The Father'

 (© Simon Annand)
2/3
© Simon Annand

Rebecca Charles (Woman) and Kenneth Cranham (Andre) in 'The Father'

 (© Simon Annand)
3/3
© Simon Annand

Claire Skinner (Anne) and Kenneth Cranham (Andre) in 'The Father'

This slippery French drama gets a well-deserved English-language premiere

This review is of 'The Father's first West End run in October 2015. Kenneth Cranham returns with a new cast that includes Amanda Drew as Anne.

The sense of unease sets in quickly. You think you’ve got the essential information organised – the daughter, Anne, blonde, with a beauty that suggests both strength and fragility, is informing her father that she is moving to London to be with her lover Anton. The father, André, witty, gently larger than life, is clearly confused about a couple of issues – he cannot see why his daughter is at the end of her tether, nor why he is being accused of hitting someone. Clearly there has been some terrible misunderstanding.

Then the edges of the stage flare white, and the set itself blacks out. A piece of Bach plays crisply, and when the set comes into focus again, we are in the same room. A strange man is sitting with André. When André asks who he is, he informs him with understated menace that he lives in the flat. Further questioning reveals that his name is Pierre, and that he is married to André’s daughter Anne.

Seized by confusion, André then smiles. In this strange game of life he has the upper hand, after all – in a moment it will be Pierre who is confused when he discovers Anne is going to leave him to live with Anton. Then Anne walks into the room - she is tall and dark and clearly has no intention of leaving anybody. What information are we to trust. Is this the real Anne, or was the Anne we saw five minutes ago the real Anne? The mind starts to spin round on itself.

Florian Zeller’s brilliant play – here translated with venomous flare by Christopher Hampton – uses its structure to mimic the state of a mind deteriorating through dementia. Each scene is an elliptical extended snapshot – it seems to evoke a memory, but quickly the absurdist contradictions crowd in. At first the inconsistencies are funny – at one point, Kenneth Cranham’s wonderful, drily sceptical André  asserts to Kirsty Oswald’s Laura that he has worked as a tap dancer, and performs a routine in his pyjamas. Describing his daughter Anne, with an edge of the cruelty that becomes more pronounced later, he complains, ‘She never touches alcohol. That’s why she’s so sober.’

Miriam Buether’s clever design at first looks like a parody of middle-class Ikea-smart minimalism, with its white walls, stylish red armchairs, and regimented bookcase. Yet as bits of furniture disappear from snapshot to snapshot, or turn up in the wrong place, we see how it is a metaphor for André’s mind. As the play progresses we see how the love between him and Anne – the ever excellent Claire Skinner –is the only constant in André’s life, yet the dementia is ravaging both of them. A startling and profoundly moving evening.

By: Rachel Halliburton

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LiveReviews|16
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Javier M
1 of 1 found helpful

The father is a drama about arzehimer and its impact on the patient and his family. It's dad but there is also some humour. I would say that the play is quite "touching"

Every actor perform a very good interpretation and the play is very well written. 

It's definitely one of the best plays I have seen in London so far.

Carly-Ann Clements
1 of 1 found helpful
Staff Writer

Such a poignant and beautifully acted play. One of the best stagings I've seen in a while. The set, lighting and sound designs are all subtle but incredibly effective. Kenneth Cranham is wonderful and his performance is so moving and heartbreaking, it left my heart heavy and my head a but numb. I was worried the show would be devastatingly sad, which it was, but the comic relief and playful character quirks made it a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

GT
1 of 1 found helpful
Staff Writer

I thought this was a remarkable play, a really intelligent look at Alzheimers that brings to life what it might be like to suffer from the disease. It's a devastating story - I saw lots of tissues coming out towards the end, but it's also honest and filled with compassion. Kenneth Cranham is brilliant in the lead role - completely convincing and captivating to watch. Highly recommended.  

Abigail D
1 of 1 found helpful
Staff Writer

A hugely affecting play with stunning performances. There’s a quiet unease as you see the effervescent, charismatic man at the centre of the story start to question everything around him as the people he loves, and the people he starts to fear, infuriatingly refuse to make sense. It’snsettling watching from his perspective as the faces he thinks he knows change, and the space around him becomes bare and blank. ‘I feel like I’m losing all my leaves’ is a beautiful and vulnerable moment in the face of forced cheeriness, baby-talk and the frustrating repetition; ‘you MUST remember’.

There’s definitely a lightness and humour, but the distress of the situation seeps through in the moments of menace and violence from the ‘unknown’ man in his flat, reflected in his own cruelty to his faithful, exasperated daughter.

It’s a simple reflection of the horrible choices families with dementia face, but it’s beautifully executed.

Ben
Tastemaker

A beautifully poignant production, bringing home the tragedy of Alzheimer's for the sufferer as well as the huge, emotionally crushing impact it has on the family.  Although there weren't many dry eyes by the end, I wasn't anticipating the play to be as funny as it is with much of the humour deriving from Kenneth Cranham's dazzling yet ultimately heartbreaking performance.  In addition, special mention goes to the scene structure and staging - A story that couldn't really work as well in any other medium.

rpate
Tastemaker

I had some reservations about The Father. Despite the glowing reviews and critical acclaim, I wasn’t convinced that the play’s subject matter would be engaging- and not because I’m not personally affected by dementia (both of my grandmothers suffered from it). Instead, I was weary of a heavy-handed or maudlin representation of the disease on stage. Given the price of seeing a West End show, it’s far easier to gravitate towards something frivolous rather than chance a more challenging production. I confess that my theatregoing habits have been governed by similar reluctances in the past.


My hesitations were completely unfounded, however.  I was compelled to see The Father after a recommendation from a fellow Time Out Tastemaker and I purchased tickets at an extraordinarily reasonable price. Even in our economy seats- positioned in the last few rows at the Duke of York’s Theatre- we were wholly immersed by The Father from the opening scene. It’s a beautifully understated and tender depiction of the mental deterioration of André, 80 years old and whose worsening condition is imposed on his daughter, Anne. Anne struggles to cope with the increased appearance of wanton cruelty shown towards her by her father as he loses his wits to dementia. He reacts outwardly with fear and ferociousness as his faculties fail him.


The production masterfully conveys his increased state of confusion through various conventions on stage: a gradual stripping away of the set and even the music played during scene changes, which buzzes and skips like a broken record. Even more jarring are the blatant inconsistencies in the details of the narrative and the sudden metamorphosis of the cast, where actors are substituted to reflect André’s disorientation and diminishing ability to recognise his surroundings and family.


For 90 minutes, The Father captivates the audience and concludes on such a poignant note that many struggled to rise from their seat without catching their breath. The cast is outstanding, especially Kenneth Cranham’s performance as André, and the production tactfully and soberly represents the effects of dementia from the point of view of the sufferer. The muddled narrative is used as a clever vehicle to highlight the frustration of a defective memory. In doing this, The Father depicts an honest and chilling perspective on dementia and fundamentally questions how we remain ourselves when we don’t recognise our home, surroundings and loved ones.


I saw The Father at the Duke of York’s Theatre, where it was on a limited run of five weeks, but the production is set to go on a national tour. This is a powerful and human handling of an issue that touches many people, but the show will resonate with everyone. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Sarah M

From the beginning to the end, there is something intriguing about The father which kept we wanting for more. If you ever wondered what is it like to live with Alzheimer, André and his daughter will give you a great dramatic grasp.  

Matthew J

This is profoundly moving play about dementia and its effects. It made clever use of a changing set that became ever sparser, different actors playing the same characters, and non-linear story telling to show the struggle of dealing with a family member with dementia, as well as the confusion of the father himself.

Kenneth Cranham was brilliant as a man who was becoming incapable of looking after himself but unable to understand what was happening. The other actors, particularly Claire Skinner as Anne, showed the range of feelings and emotions that someone dealing with a relative with dementia can go through: sadness, anger, amusement, hurt – all underpinned by a love for the person they are caring for and uncertainty about how to look after them best. It was completely engrossing.

My only criticism would be the use of French names and Paris as a setting – it didn’t really make sense with such typically English characters/actors and was at time jarring. But that is a very minor point.

I'm very tempted to go and see it again...

dnwilliams

I have to admit I was slightly concerned going in that The Father would be something of a slog. Thankfully, despite the subject matter, it's not as downbeat as you might anticipate, though it's definitely as affecting as you might hope. It's not plot-driven by any means, instead spending its time exploring the perspective of its central character with creative use of the supporting cast and narrative structure. I thought it was an odd choice to keep the characters and the setting French while having none of the actors play French at all, especially when the story could have been so easily transposed, but that didn't detract significantly.

Sze Mun M

Best play of the decade. Blows all other plays out of the water. Bring a box of tissues. 

GeorgeX
Tastemaker

A father. His daughter. Dementia. A heart-breaking new play by Florian Zeller, with Kenneth Cranham absolutely defining the term "good theater acting". In West End, for limited season. A must see.

Reynold p

One of the very best plays I've seen..clever serious acting as it should be.. about the mind. And very good for it...it's why we come to the west end.. well done ren peterson portsmouth

Andy S

Where would you begin in writing down what dementia is like so an audience can begin to understand it? This multi sensory production goes a long way to achieving that. From the increasingly disjointed music, through the changing actors to the reducing set and blackouts, the audience feels the breakdown of the senses with the lead character. But this is a carefully balanced view which reflects both the pressures on the sufferer and the carer without judgement or prejudice. Moving and thought-provoking.

AME
Tastemaker

This is SUCH a beautifully written and performed play. In its humour it was touching and ‘feel good’ and in its seriousness it was far-reaching and heart breaking! For such a difficult reality that some experience in later life, I felt that the play managed to remain light-hearted and focused on what is beautiful about growing old. That being said, I cried my eyes out at the end. The subtle and gentle removing/stripping of the stage is very appropriate and only further invites you to understand such a situation. Catch it while it is still showing, the actors’ passion for playing their characters is so infectious that it will spread onto you!

O. Gordon
Tastemaker

The Father tells the story of an older man suffering with a failing mind. The set is wonderfully naturalistic with most of the story taking place in an apartment. The lighting and sound are both used as mechanisms to convey the confusion he must be feeling and I found the repetition of bars in the music between scene changes both appropriate and effective. 


Kenneth Cranham (The Father) does fantastic job flirting between comedy, confusion and an adamancy that it's everyone else who is mixing things up, not him. The character always seems real and recognisable, a requirement to keep the play grounded. Clare Skinner (Anne) is equally at home in this play. The weight of dealing with a family members decline slowly erodes her competency in coping with the situation as the story progresses. There is some brilliant listening acting, conveying more of the pain in silence than could be said with words.


The Father is awash with oxymorons. It's beautiful and hard to watch, funny and deeply saddening, avoidable but inescapable. Although it will surely drudge up some deeply stored emotions, anyone who has had to cope with a family members physical or mental decline will both relate and sympathise. Just like real life, there is no fanfare, no fireworks when the time comes, it just sort of fades out. 


My only gripe was that the LED lighting around the stage was very intense (saying that, we were very close to the stage). Migraine inducingly intense! I had to keep my eyes shut during change overs to avoid having my retinas burnt off but luckily the well thought out music kept me involved. 


It is a beautiful play, go and see it.