thu 19/10/2017

The Father, Tricycle Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

The Father, Tricycle Theatre

The Father, Tricycle Theatre

Brutally honest portrait of dementia is unmissable theatre

Family matters: Anne (Claire Skinner) tries to care for father André (Kenneth Cranham)Simon Annand

André is losing time. It’s not just his perennially mislaid watch, but whole hours, weeks, years. Is he still living in his Paris flat, or did he move in with his daughter Anne? Is she married, divorced, leaving the country with a new boyfriend? And why does that nurse she’s forced on him – the third one, or is it the first? – remind him so strongly of his other daughter, whose unexplained absence is just one of the memories slipping through his fingers like sand?

The stark, inescapable power of Florian Zeller’s Molière Award-winning play, meticulously translated by Christopher Hampton, is that dementia sufferer André’s dislocation is not passively related; we experience first-hand its cold horror. The set-up is deceptively simple: Anne (Claire Skinner) visits her father (Kenneth Cranham, pictured below) in his chic apartment to tell him she and her partner are moving to London. Moments later, she’s played by another actress and is married. Then the flat is hers, shared with a boyfriend. Familiar faces shift into a succession of carers, while furniture moves and vanishes. As André loses his grasp on reality, so do we.

The Father, Tricycle TheatreThis immersive disorientation is immaculately delivered by James Macdonald’s measured 90-minute production, now at the Tricycle after an acclaimed Bath run (the second Theatre Royal London transfer this week following Hay Fever). Other than some welcome black humour and a few thriller tropes, the subdued naturalism offers little relief – this is an almost unbearably devastating watch. Pinter’s influence is apparent in the shifting power dynamics, elusive history and menace lurking beneath the mundane, and a spare script lends weight to innocuous, oft-repeated phrases whose sense stutters and stalls like the piano music fracturing between scenes.

“O, let me not be mad!” begged Lear, and the diminishment of Cranham’s pyjama-clad patriarch is no less powerful for its relative modesty. Anne remembers him as a man of authority, someone to be feared, but in a painful regression and reversal, the parent becomes a child – “Little Daddy” – sobbing for his mother and cringing from possibly real abuse. But Cranham is no benign dodderer. His mesmerising André is alternately charming, belligerent, sly, paranoia growing out of detection of condescension and conspiracy surrounding him.

Though André’s perspective is prioritised, we glimpse, too, the effects of his casual cruelty, not least the demonisation of Anne, dutiful but second-placed daughter. Skinner sympathetically evokes that thankless sacrifice, as well as its inevitable breaking point. Jim Sturgeon and Colin Tierney, the men in her life, chillingly switch between polite patience and threat, and Jade Williams and Rebecca Charles are similarly versatile in multiple roles. Even when André isn’t present, ambiguity is retained, removing the security of viewer objectivity.

Miriam Buether’s increasingly minimalist set is a striking visual metaphor of André’s loss: of everything, everyone, and finally himself. That grief has a climactic expression, but no escape. You will carry it with you when you leave the theatre.  

The subdued naturalism offers little relief – this is an almost unbearably devastating watch

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters