THE FATHER – A disconcerting night at the theatre


On Saturday I was in the audience at the Wyndham Theatre in London hoping to have a better night than the last time I was there. That time I had seen ‘The Mentalists’, which, if you’ve read my review of it, you’ll know that I didn’t enjoy very much. So here I was back again and ever hopeful.

Wyndhams Theatre is always a lovely setting for any play with its gilt work and eau de nil decor.

The homeless man was missing from the box this time

The ladies toilets in the Stalls however leave a lot to be desired. Really it’s a cupboard with two toilets and it is necessary to be a contortionist to wash your hands and dry them while surrounded by a queue of woman that grows by the minute as the time for the curtain to be raised approaches. But I digress.

This time I was at the theatre to see ‘The Father’ by French playwright Florian Zeller, which has been translated by Christopher Hampton, he of Les Liaisons Dangereuses fame. The play has transferred from regional theatre to the West End for a short run of 8 weeks. The main characters are a father and daughter. The elderly father, Andre, is played by Kenneth Cranham and his daughter Anne is played by Claire Skinner, who will be better known as the long suffering mother in the TV programme Outnumbered. The story depicts an old man suffering from Alzheimer’s and the struggle he and his daughter have in dealing with this.

The father is charming and lucid at moments and lost and argumentative at others. The play is seen from his perspective which means that the audience has a increasingly disorientating experience. Characters change, they walk into rooms only to disappear completely and to be replaced by other characters. The story changes. Faces change. We don’t know what to believe. Is Anne married or divorced? Is she going to live in the UK or is Andre moving in with her? Was Andre a dancer or an engineer?  Is Anne’s husband or boyfriend being cruel to the old man? Is the flat Andre’s or Anne’s?

The dislocation is further enhanced by the fact that there is no interval. Which if you had failed to notice in the programme adds to the sense of confusion, or that might just be me.

The set itself becomes a metaphor for Andre losing his marbles. With each new scene change there are fewer and fewer pieces of furniture on stage as Andre loses his grip on the facts of his life. The scene changes are accompanied by discordant music that starts and stops, jumps and buzzes.
It is a very interesting evening but a confusing one. This is obviously the point of the play. Florian Zeller is showing us how it feels to be Andre but I was a little way into the play before I realised what was happening. It is a black comedy so there are some delightful moments and Kenneth Cranham is fabulous in the role. Claire Skinner is also very convincing as the increasingly desperate daughter.

It’s a poignant play that stays with you long after leaving the theatre, which incidentally you do about 9pm as the play is  90 minutes long. This is great if you want to catch a cab before the rest of the theatres empty their audiences onto the streets.

It’s definitely worth getting tickets if you are in London in the next few weeks. It is scheduled to finish its run on November 21st 2015.

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