The Father

I'm lucky that I've had no first hand experience of the impact of the disease looked at in The Father so my knowledge is only general rather than personal. However, I hope it's fair to say that I think Alzheimer's affects not only the one suffering but also – as the world around them gets more confused, frustrating and seems to slowly break down into a jumble of jigsaw pieces rather than the whole picture it once was – rolls into the day to day existence of those who surround them. The Father – rather than simply being a story of the 80 year old Andre's progression with the illness and his daughter Anne's attempts to at times help and at times simply cope or just exist – is a mind-blowing literal theatrical demonstration of how it may feel when one's mind has actually seemed to have been 'blown'.

A mind-blowing literal theatrical demonstration of how it may feel when one's mind has actually seemed to have been 'blown'

Having originated in the UK at Bath and then run for a couple of months at The Wyndhams at the end of 2015, Florian Zeller's play (translated expertly here in a way that maintains the broken sentences, repetition and Pinter-style silences with a natural conversive English by Christopher Hampton) is now at the Duke of York's for another limited run. This should keep happening – it's too powerful a piece to be away from a West End stage for long but probably also never likely to get a longer-term residence as the subject matter is less appealing for the tourists to fill it for a longer time.

Explaining too much of the story is both unimportant and detracts from the point and power of the piece. We start in a simple 'white box' setting filled with the unremarkable and unmemorable furnishings of what we ascertain to be Andre's flat – where we get an inkling of the early stages of dementia during the awkward conversation he has with his daughter Anne. They are talking about 'things getting worse' and 'changes needing to be made' since his recent altercation with his last nurse ("I hit her with a curtain pole? She stole my watch" - he says exasperatedly) and Anne's upcoming move to London that will leave him alone in Paris ("It never stops raining in London" he implores, whilst asking why his other – favourite – daughter never visits). And from there on, any expected structured storyline in which we could find comfort, not only disappears, but is disjointed and throws us back and forth as though we are living his confusion for ourselves.

We start to wonder if it actually was his daughter in the first scene as another actress appears to play the role and refutes the previous conversation. The move to London was just in his mind – or was it? The current boyfriend of Anne appears (also played by two actors) - or is he her husband? or the ex-partner? – and may hate Andre … or be jealous of him… or want to support him… or actually strike him.

And whose flat is he actually in anyway? As the play progresses, each scene – some revised versions of what we've (possibly) seen before, some lasting only seconds – is broken by a spluttering sparkling light framing the stage, and piano music (possibly Bach) that increasingly scratches and breaks like an old favourite, overplayed record, as the illness gets more deteriorating. And slowly – almost unnoticeably at first – ornaments, lighting and furniture all start to disappear from the set.

It all adds up to be a rather disarming experience but, where I recently challenged Churchill's Escaped Alone at the Royal Court for using similarly disarming tricks, here we are far from feeling alienated. Sure, we may be confused at times, but the impact couldn't be more different, making us a part of the suffering rather than feeling pushed away from it.

Kenneth Cranham reprises his performance of Andre (for which he won the Critics Circle Award for Best Actor 2015) and whilst it may take a little while to warm to his underplayed and disjointed delivery, that's more because you don't realise how his behaviour will unfold. As you become more and more a part of his journey and experiences, so you believe in his understated exasperation that makes it difficult for him to find the right words. More so as it's never mawkish – when he takes the mickey out of "the infirm" (with a possibly politically incorrect impression of the "ughs-ughs") he's actually very funny. When he gets frustrated with other people challenging his own memories ("I get the feeling you sometimes suffer from memory loss" he tells his daughter), he does it so that we laugh before we feel guilty for doing so. We don't want to laugh at him, but with him. And his masterful playing with the delivery of the phrases mentioned earlier – of it always raining in London and of his 'favourite daughter' which are repeated many times throughout the play– manages to convey completely different meaning to evoke laughter through to tears with the same lines.

Amanda Drew as daughter Anne gives an understated performance that is a buffer to his erratic ways – but we are clearly in his mind's story rather than hers. Her brief monologue does seem a little out of place in terms of structure and delivery but helps to pave the way for more confusion later and she is at her best when doing the smallest things in the smallest ways – taking her first sip of alcohol in years, saying simply that "it's good wine", tells us much about her need to be supported in the situation with just a slump in her body and the few words uttered.

It all makes for a theatrical masterpiece that combines every visual, structural and casting element to involve the audience in an experience that teaches you more about what it must be like to live with the disease than if it was to play out as a didactic lecture or with a more usual narrative storyline. The supporting cast equally display their belief in the multiple smaller roles and the staging itself is close to being the hero of the show. But it's Cranham who deserves the most plaudits for what must be the best, simplest and at times tiniest performance of his career. I may be wrong to assume it will transfer again – especially with him remaining in the title role – so don't miss out on this run. It's a cliché to say that it will make you laugh and cry at times (as theatre really should, but rarely does) but it will do so in a way that makes it a theatrical journey that you need to go on and couldn't be experienced in any other medium.

Reviews by Simon Ximenez

National Theatre

The Normal Heart

★★★
Arts Theatre

Oleanna

★★
Olivier Theatre

Under Milk Wood

★★★★
Lyttelton Theatre

The Seven Streams of the River Ota

★★★★★
National Theatre Olivier

The Visit

★★★
National Theatre - Olivier

My Brilliant Friend

★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Now eighty years old, Andre was once a tap dancer. He lives with his daughter Anne and her husband Antoine. Or was he an engineer whose daughter Anne lives in London with her new lover, Pierre? The thing is, he is still wearing his pyjamas and he can't find his watch. He is starting to wonder if he's losing control...

The Father is the winner of France's highest theatrical honour, the 2014 Moliere Award for Best Play, and in Christopher Hampton's crisp and witty translation, has dazzled audiences and critics alike at the Theatre Royal Bath and the Tricycle Theatre. It has received an unprecedented eight five star reviews from major national newspaper critics.

Tony and Olivier Award nominees, Kenneth Cranham and Claire Skinner reprise their indelible performances for thirty eight performances only.

Most Popular See More

Back to the Future - The Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Lion King

From £36.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Come From Away

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Mousetrap

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Matilda the Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Pretty Woman: The Musical

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets