In My Father's Words

Louis is one of Canada's most respected teachers of classical literature. His particular area of expertise is Homer's The Odyssey, an epic poem he views as being about memory, the home and a son's long search for his father. So there is a certain irony when Louis–hardly the most sociable and relaxed of individuals–is required to take on responsibility for his ailing father Don, a man he hasn't seen in 15 years and who is rapidly succumbing to dementia.

Lewis Howden gives the initially isolated Louis a human depth audiences can sympathise with, while Muireann Kelly is not afraid to show the sharper edges of the generally homely Flora

With his teaching commitments, Louis can't provide full-time care, even assuming he wanted to–which, apart from a sense of family obligation, he doesn't. So he reluctantly takes on the practical, worldly-wise Flora (a name itself reeking of historic and literary associations) as daytime cover. This is fortuitous, if only because she’s able to recognise that Don isn't simply gabbling nonsense; suddenly, he's speaking Gaelic.

Here, other writerly comparisons comes to play; Louis is supposedly working on a new translation of The Odyssey, although he’s years beyond his deadline. Clearly, his struggles to translate Homer—to get inside the head of the Ancient Greek writer—are meant to parallel his own lack of communication with a father he never particularly liked and a man he’s beginning to realise that he didn't really know at all. Reluctant at first to even try, the “self-absorbed intellectual”(Flora’s description) begins to warm slowly to his father’s carer and, at her suggestion, even begins to learn some Gaelic in the hope that he can gain some understanding of his father before its too late.

Lewis Howden gives the initially isolated Louis a human depth audiences can sympathise with, while Muireann Kelly is not afraid to show the sharper edges of the generally homely Flora, determined to match-make a reconciliation of sorts between father and son but not afraid to speak her mind. Yet it’s the writer and actor Angus Peter Campbell who has the greatest challenge in connecting with the audience, not least because the majority of his dialogue is in Gaelic, requiring non-speakers to follow the translation projected on the large screen above Fiona Watt's rough-worn set.

Thanks to the cast, In My Father's Words is–despite all the potential literary artifice–an engrossing story that lives and breathes and leaves a warm memory. 

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues

Nests

★★★
Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

★★★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Marmite

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

In an old wooden house by the shore of Lake Ontario in Canada, Louis battles with his elderly father, Don, whose decline into dementia is gradually robbing him of the ability to speak. Louis’ professional success as a university teacher of Classics belies an emotional inarticulacy which matches his father’s inability to express himself in words.

And then into their lives comes Flora, the carer that Louis employs to look after Don. Flora is of Scottish heritage and a good listener, and she understands that the ‘nonsense’ which Don speaks is fragmented Gaelic, opening up an ocean of revelations and buried family history spanning the Atlantic.