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Posts Tagged ‘The Father’

French playwright Florian Zeller has had the most meteoric rise. This is his seventh play to be produced in London in eight years, and that includes almost two years where virtually nothing new was produced. They’ve had many awards and transfers and the first we saw, The Father, became on Oscar winning film. I loved this, plus The Mother, The Son (soon to be a film too) and The Truth. I was less enamoured with The Lie, which along with The Mother didn’t get a West End transfer, and Height of the Storm, which went straight to the West End, but you can’t expect the standard of his best work to be sustained forever.

I occasionally felt he was in danger of being too clever and glib, in a Stoppardian way, notably in The Lie. I now feel he’s following more of a Pinter / Churchill trajectory, writing for himself more than his audience, perhaps becoming obtuse to cover up his lack of fresh ideas. Anyway, I really took against this latest one. A lot of talent wasted on an eighty minute jigsaw puzzle you have little chance of completing, with an old fashioned feel to it, very much to the detriment of the female characters. Gina McKee had such a meaty leading role in The Mother, here she’s wasted on a totally underwritten role as The Wife.

Toby Stevens is Man 1, a successful surgeon. His wife is there to welcome him home and look after him. Their daughter has split up with her partner at a time when they were trying for a baby. Man 2, played by Paul McCann, is having an affair with a singer who wants to be more than just the mistress. We also meet a male friend and female friend, a couple, who don’t really serve much purpose. There’s a young man, who may be the daughter’s estranged partner, or maybe not. Then there’s a mysterious man with white make-up, the ‘Man in Black’, another character whose point or purpose were lost on me. The singer appears to die, scenes are repeated with changes, Man 1 and 2 may be the same character (they are both called Pierre). Even the title is a puzzle.

After seeing it, I heard a radio interview with Zeller where he repeated something he says in the programme about wanting the audience to piece it together. He went on to give us a spoiler, that it’s about a man wracked with guilt and mental health issues because of his fidelity. So much for unravelling it for yourself. For me, it was a huge disappointment from a playwright I had hitherto admired. I hope it doesn’t herald the beginning of Zeller’s decline, but my intuition tells me it probably is. He’s given us four gems, which is more than many playwrights, but one might have expected more from a prolific 42-year-old. C’est la vie.

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French Playwright Florian Zeller’s work has become a staple of London’s theatre in the last five years. Six of his play’s have had productions here in that period, all translated by Christopher Hampton. This seventh is the third in his family trilogy, following The Mother & The Father which, both first seen in this theatre, we saw the other way round to the order in which they were written. Though I liked the other three, those two stood out for me, and this is a very welcome companion piece.

The son, Nicolas, a teenager, seems badly affected by his parents separation. His dad Pierre has a new wife and baby son and he asks to live with them after his mother Anne struggles to cope when she discovers he hasn’t been going to school. If anything, it’s even more of a challenge at his father’s and he spirals into depression and despair. What at first seems unhappiness at the split proves to be severe depression.

It’s hard to say more without spoiling it, but it is a harrowing journey that shows the damage that can be done at a vulnerable point in a young person’s life, and the agony of the parents who have to deal with it. It doesn’t take sides, and Zeller doesn’t mess with your head as much as he did in The Father, about dementia, and The Mother, who struggles with empty nesting, but he does have a trick or two up his sleeve.

Michael Longhurst’s sensitive production features a career defining performance by John Light, at first unsympathetic, but whose pain you come to feel intensely as he lets go, and a stunning performance that oozes authenticity by Laurie Kynaston as Nicolas. Though the male leads carry the emotional weight of the play, there are excellent contributions too from Amanda Abbington as Nicolas’ mum Anne, who struggles to cope with it all, and Amaka Okafor as Pierre’s new partner Sofia, torn between supporting her man in his support of his son and focusing on their new life and new child.

It’s not an easy watch, but it’s an insightful piece which rewards you with a sense of understanding and appreciation of mental health, as the other two plays had done, and the impact marital separation can have on children.

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You can always rely on National Theatre Wales to take you on a new journey or to take a new route on an existing one. This isn’t the first play on dementia I’ve seen in recent years, but unlike The Father, which messed with your head to confront the condition, this one goes straight to the heart, with it’s choir setting and lovely contemporary choral music.

Most of the play takes place in the local library where the dementia choir rehearse, though we also visit homes to see some of the realities of living with the condition for both the patients and the carers. As it establishes itself, the therapeutic power of the choir becomes clear, though social services prove less than fully committed and the library is facing an uncertain future. The divisiveness of the miners strike return as an activist miner Rocky and former policeman Evan clash once more. Early onset alzheimer’s brings the much younger Joe and his carer Dyanne to the choir. We have a brief glimpse at carer abuse and a more difficult confrontation with a representative of the result of the demise of the valleys.

It’s a touch bitty, with lots of scene changes slowing the pace (and an awful lot of chair movement!), but it handles the issues effectively and sensitively and the music, including an excellent brand new Manic Street Preachers song written specially for the show, is uplifting. The performances are deeply moving, especially Dafydd Hywel as Rocky, Desmond Barrit as his nemesis Evan and Martin Marquez as Tom. NTW have been working with choirs like this and it’s great to see some of them on stage. Anna Fleischle’s design is uber-realistic and Matthew Dunstster’s staging brings out the best of Patrick Jones’ heart-on-sleeve writing.

I continue to admire NTW’s capacity to engage, educate, challenge, provoke and entertain and was glad I was in Wales to catch this.

 

 

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