The Father review - October 2015

It can leave you feeling unsatisfied

It is likely that most people will know or have known someone who has been affected by dementia, the disease that destroys memories; from the mundane domestic routines to precious, unique moments. Arriving at Wyndham’s Theatre after a successful run at the Theatre Royal Bath, Florian Zeller’s thought-provoking play attempts to understand the effect of Alzheimer’s disease on an 80-year-old man who has lost his bearings and is watching unknowingly as his own world dissolves around him.

The Father has received huge critical praise. It is easy to understand why; this is a subject matter left reasonably untouched, but remains pertinent in an age determined to explore mental health issues. Undeniably at the head of this acclaim is Kenneth Cranham who stars as André, the elderly protagonist whose world is crumbling around him. He delivers a brilliant performance. The descent from a confident, charming, witty man, to a shuffling, confused child, is effectively distressing. At times you are just as infuriated as his family around him, at others you want to hold him and explain it all away.

Unfortunately, the supporting cast do little to complement Cranham’s towering performance. Claire Skinner took a while to settle into her role and is largely underwhelming, seeming too comfortable in a role that stays wholly on one level of wearied emotion. Kirsty Oswald as the young carer and Jim Sturgeon who juggled a selection of roles suffered from stilted line delivery and were awkward in their characters’ skins; it’s not often you have a conversation with someone in real life who is standing completely frozen to the spot.

Zeller’s intelligent script, translated by Christopher Hampton, is both bewildering and exhausting. In scenes that often contradict each other, we are left like Andre, in a state of frustration as we wonder who people are, where we are and how we got there. It’s a play of questions that aims to reflect the muddled mind of someone suffering from dementia and whilst it is a brilliant device, it can leave you feeling unsatisfied.

A mention has to go to Miriam Buether’s intriguing set which would morph effectively into different spaces during the frequent and jarring blackouts – an unfortunately unimaginative way of achieving a potentially interesting effect. No doubt the blackouts are used as a metaphor for the thoughts of someone with dementia, but the result is exasperating.

The Father somehow manages to stay with you for days after seeing it. The intelligent script only falls fault to some poor acting and questionable directional decisions. As the play draws to a close, André asks the question that everybody dreads: ‘Who am I? Do you know who I am?’ And after the entirety of the play, you still don’t really know.


Reviewed by Susannah Rose Martin.
12 October 2015, Wyndham's Theatre