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25th Jun, 2022

REVIEW: The Father by Florian Zeller

Malvern Editorial 19th Jun, 2015 Updated: 20th Oct, 2016

The Father by Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton

Malvern Theatres 18 June

Lee Farley writes for The Observer

Before seeing a show I’m reviewing, I do some research – google reviews, read the play, find out about the writer. The first review I read of Florian Zeller’s contemporary play recommended that its audience should go without any foreknowledge. No spoilers. I think this is sound advice. Basically, you should absolutely go and see this breathtakingly impressive production if you can. Now stop reading. If you do read any further, you risk tarnishing the experience. You’ve been warned.

We’re in a modern Parisian flat. Minimalist, white walls. Andre and his daughter Anne are arguing about Isobel, Andre’s carer. The play opens mid-scene, mid-argument. We’re thrown headlong into this domestic family tension and it’s initially disorientating. The box set is surrounded by a square of stark, glaring light bulbs which light up between scenes, along with some piano music which occasionally skips & distorts. This is ingenious, subtle design. As the play progresses we realise the impact of the lights and music.

Andre is getting old, forgetting things. His daughter and her partner Pierre are becoming increasingly burdened by having to take care of him and the situation is affecting their relationship. Andre struggles to bond with a series of carers brought in for support. Pierre thinks Andre should move into a home. This is an increasingly familiar scenario which is played out here with astonishing theatrical verve and emotional honesty. The audience are invited to experience what it’s like being in Andre’s mind. The onstage action reflects his (and our) cognitive processes. Lights and music are jarring, dialogue is repeated, characters appear as different actors, furniture disappears, there are discrepancies and ambiguities. This is absolutely compelling and unlike anything I’ve experienced in a theatre before, a remarkable combination of inspired theatricality, candid dialogue and incredibly convincing performances. The Father is an outstandingly powerful and inspiring work.

Kenneth Cranham offers a heartfelt and beguiling performance. His final tearful moments are heartbreaking, the production has placed us in his shoes, in his mind and he feels so close to us even as he struggles to hold onto his world. Clare Skinner is an equally captivating performer, her sympathy and love for her father is evident even as she is forced to make decisions which take her away from him. We feel her frustration and powerlessness.

Malvern Theatres is fortunate to host such an emotionally affecting, contemporary, relevant, enthralling work. The Father is a tremendous achievement, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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