FringeReview UK 2016
Christopher Hampton’s translation of Florian Zeller’s acclaimed The Father, originally at Wyndham’s, now sets out on an ATG tour. Kenneth Cranham and Rebecca Charles remain from the original cast. Directed by James Macdonald, with Stella Powell-Jones, with a remarkable set by Miriam Beuther
Kenneth Cranham reprises the role he created at Wyndham’s for Christopher Hampton’s acclaimed translation of a modern masterpiece, in this ATG touring production directed as before by James Macdonald.
There’s a moment when daughter Anne sits solitary near a lampshade, reciting how she’s dreamed strangling her ailing father André without resistance: grateful, he smiled in death. It’s one of those moments – in a play that masters our hallucinations – that tell us it’s not simply the eponymous title character of the play who’s skewing the audience with delusions. James Macdonald paces this so the ninety minutes is both absorbing and slowly headlong: utterly Greek.
It means even when André’s off-stage, delusions continue: through Anne’s dream, or the wider question of who dreams who in this moving, Pinteresque telling of a man slipping not gently into Alzheimer’s; and his daughter’s attempts to lovingly accommodate dementia with increasingly desperate strategies at husband Pierre’s prompting.
That bleak white prospect’s a way off as Kenneth Cranham’s André peppers daughter Amanda Drew with rich baritonal avuncularity, in day-clothing permanently switched for pyjamas.
Anne’s trying new carer Laura, bubbly Jade Williams, since she’s leaving to live in London where as André quips, it always rains. She’s joining Pierre (Daniel Flynn) a man she’s known a few months… a long time. André’s coping strategies are asserted: the previous carer stole his watch. Proved wrong he says she would have! Characters leave for the kitchen; their existence is then denied. A second husband (Brian Doherty) appears whom neither we nor André recognize, and a second Anne, Rebecca Charles. Narratives of Anne’s relationship shift. André turns cruelly on Anne and Laura, particularly investing a vanished daughter with Anne’s qualities, saying he loves her.
Grumbling husband Pierre asserts André’s living in their flat. The London theme returns. We’re never sure, as in Old Times, surely one starting-point of this essentially triangular relationship, which scenario’s true north.
Charles not only as Anne, but Laura and a nurse, furnishes sharp analogues to non-recognition. This shift isn’t simply dementia; brief derangement might prove one deviation into sense.
Doherty’s Pierre shocks suddenly: we just surmise resentful André imagines it. Anne can’t understand why André’s flinching. Scenes reprised, the cast shifts. André’s seemingly cruel references to his favourite daughter transform in Anne’s and André’s shared processing; one scene washes conciliatory pathos with terror. Subtlety of reprise – though André sharply complains at Anne repeating herself! – gifts a cubist provisionality in Zeller’s masterly construction, its suffering short-circuitry built in.
Between each tableau black-out Bach preludes (not fugues, perhaps too obvious) trill in increasingly ruptured playback to assure us of André’s deterioration, yet the scenes in Miriam Buethner’s cleanly-boxed set remain lucid. One factor in the disease’s progression is the clearing away of furniture, as apparently recalled items vanish. At one point we’d swear with André we’re in the drawing room.
Cranham gives a blasted heath of a central performance, perfectly tuned to pathos terror and rage: ‘I’m losing my leaves.’ Drew too in a controlled repertoire of tenderness, exasperation and despair counterpoises him, registering the human analogue of this loss.
It really is one of the plays of the decade.