Once again Laurence Boswell has uncovered a new play by the young celebrated French writer, Florian Zeller. The Father has already won a Moliere, the highest accolade for French Theatre and it premieres here as part of the current season, directed by James Macdonald.
It is a challenging piece tracing the fall of Andre ( Kenneth Cranham) into total isolation, confusion and loss of control as the octogenarian dementia sufferer. The techniques of the production: bright lights, discordant broken musical phrases and the physical changes of the set force us to experience it with him rather than purely observe. We are faced with the initial confusion, yet are able to make sense of the brusque, impartial directorial decisions from James Macdonald which gradually build to a heartbreaking final scene of emptiness save for the hug of a stranger, who to Andre could as easily have been his mother. We are not particularly encouraged to engage until the play reaches its later stages.
Lia Williams as Anne, his long suffering daughter encounters most carers issues, the lack of trust in the home help, the accusations of theft and also the continual request for the other daughter, the favourite, to visit. There is little obvious warmth due to the nature of the writing but the underlying sentiments are there. The disjointed story never really confirming to whom she is married and we never truly discover whether Andre was indeed a dancer or an engineer; that remains secondary to Zeller’s exploration of the human condition and Andre’s perception of the world.
Cranham manages to move effortlessly through the play, beautifully judged moments clearly defining a further slip into the glaring dark abyss.
This is a performance that will no doubt bring many accolades and a production that will generate much discussion. Audience reaction will be reflective to some extent on life experience, Zeller does not draw conclusions or give answers; merely holds a mirror up to the complexities of life and each will no doubt see a slightly different version; once again the Ustinov have provided a thought provoking and challenging production, the range of their work is inspiring.
**** (4 Stars)