Some suggest that time is a precious thing. This couldn’t be suggested more so than in Florian Zeller’s The Father. After successful runs at the Tricycle and Wyndham’s, it returns to the West End for a five-week run at the Duke of York’s.
Kenneth Cranham plays Andre, an 80 year father to his daughter Anne who he lives with in Paris alongside her husband Antoine. He also thinks his daughter lives in London with Pierre, her newfound lover. Ultimately, Kenneth gives an honest portrayal of the effects of dementia. Andre is a King Lear-esque character, as we witness this figure of previous authority deteriorate along with the relationships he has with his family. With a feeble physicality and a longing for strength both physically and vocally, Cranham delivers a brilliantly devastating performance.
The feeling of memory loss is carried towards the audience throughout the duration in the design. Gradually, Miriam Buether’s set dissolves with Andre’s home and his familiar belongings slowly fading away before we are left with him centred in an empty blank canvas. Christopher Shutt’s sound design makes this all the more powerful, with a piece of classical music playing in-between scenes and a gradual development of screeches and repeats of fragments heard in each transition. The audience’s role begins spectorial but it develops into a sensory experience of the feeling of loss, both of memory and love.
Zeller’s writing is simple, repetitive at times. Silence inbetween dialogue plays a vital role alongside the script in deepening the engagement of memory loss. Its stripped back nature, however, works well with the fragility of Andre’s personality and the minimal design, making James Macdonald’s vision of the play consistently unified.
The relationship with a father is universal with any person of any age. Zeller’s realistic portrayal of a family drama and the effects of dementia can resurrect with any audience member proving the experience of watching The Father to be all the more tragic.
I can’t say I enjoyed watching this. It’s traumatic, yet brilliantly traumatic and an essential watch.
Reviewed by Barry O’Reilly
Photo: Simon Annand