The Father - 17 March 2015 Review

Alex Ferns delivers a show stopping performance

As I was nibbling my cornflakes this morning, I happened to glance over good old Jeremy Kyle. What was today’s hard hitting social issue scrolling across the bottom of the screen? Ah “has my cheating wife tricked me into raising other men’s children?” – How very apt!

Apparently the deceit of womankind is a far reaching and timeless issue; an issue that is the focus of August Strindberg’s 1887 play The Father. Somewhat akin to the young lady in Jeremy Kyle, in Strindberg’s text a devious wife plants the seeds of doubt in her husband’s mind as to the paternity of her child following a disagreement about their daughter’s upbringing. What a cow.

Strindberg’s original is a somewhat dense three acter, so all hail Laurie Slade’s modern adaptation that packs as much punch in 100 (albeit somewhat intense) minutes.

Slade has played with the era somewhat, shifting it from the late 19th century to what looks and feels like the 1940’s; thus setting the show in perhaps a more relatable past. I have to say the decision made for delightful viewing; how lovely were the costumes! Emily Dobbs looked every bit the temptress as the malicious wife Laura, flashing her stockings to gain the sexual affection of her conflicted “big baby” husband.

Emily Dobbs the father

Alex Ferns made for a marvelous Captain and delivered a truly stand out performance, flitting between lunacy, vehemence and violence believably all within the space of a scene! Ferns also bought a beautiful and convincing naivety to the role which made the plot-line of his wife tricking him into madness more realistic and therefore more shocking.

Ferns and Dobbs had real chemistry as the Captain and Laura; there brought real electricity and fire to the piece. Contrastingly, the Captain’s relationship with his nurse, played by June Watson, was equally as captivating to watch, and again his more tender relationship with his daughter, Bertha. These relationships with the three most important women in his life allowed for true character formation from Ferns as he expressed his passionate “manly” side, his boyish side and his tender and caring side.

The Father June Watson

There was some great work from the slightly less prominent cast members; Robert Wilfort brings subtlety and spiritual reason to the role of the Pastor, which is nicely contrasted by Barnaby Sax as the Doctor. Both characters sum up a different side of the dialectic between the spiritual and scientific realms that are strong themes throughout the show. Thomas Coombes also plays a great soldier, Nojd, whose character teases at the plot strings early on, making the text feel very well thought out indeed.

The father Alex Ferns

The Father shows real directing prowess from Abbey Wright, a promising rising star in the industry. Having been so captivated by The Father, I am eagerly awaiting her work on The Mentalists which will soon receive a run at the Wyndham’s Theatre.

The only minor issue I found with the piece is that it is perhaps a bit too big for it's space. Shouty moments are LOUD with a capital L and can become just a tiny bit grating. Also on occasion I felt the descent into shouty mode from some actors, including Dobbs, was just a tiny bit too quick. My ears need build up!

Overall, The text itself raises some very interesting questions about religion and upbringing as well as the power the female sex holds over supposed male dominance. Interesting subject matter and some excellent performances... What more can one ask for in an evening?

17 March 2015, Trafalgar Studio One