Theatre Review: The Son at The Kiln, Kilburn
PUBLISHED: 15:24 28 February 2019
The third play in Florian Zeller’s family trilogy is a sometimes heartwrenching drama about adolescent mental health but quite doesn’t tap into the same primal fears as the previous two
French playwright du jour Florian Zeller understands the primal power of staging universal family relationships and pulling certain strings.
The third in his family trilogy explores adolescent mental health and the limits of parental love, but wrongfoots the audience far less than the previous two.
If they found a neat dramatic language to convey the delusions of dementia (The Father) or obsessive parental love (The Mother) this could do with a little more of their unreliable subjectivity.
Like when we are party to teenage Nicolas’ trashing his father’s elegant Parisian apartment - all high ceilinged minimalism on Lizzie Clachan’s set - while everyone else steps over the unseen debris.
Zeller unmoors his dramas from specifics, there’s no diagnosis here for Laurie Kynaston’s disturbed teen who is self harming, skipping school and having suicidal thoughts following the breakdown of his parent’s marriage.
No mention is made of social media, or the draconian French mental health system which serves estranged Pierre and Anne a stark choice between taking responsibility for their disturbed child, or handing him over to medical care.
Shorn of dramatic tricksiness, Michael Longhurst’s delicately handled production becomes a well-written but less remarkable study of father/son relations, with the underwritten women somewhat pushed to the edges.
Kynaston ably captures Nicholas’ manipulations and self-destructive despair at his inabilty to manage life - with heartbreaking flashes of the happier child he once was.
Amanda Abbington is all twitchy devastation as Anne, frozen by parental fear and visibly bruised from her unwanted break up.
And Amaka Okafor manages to warm up a potentially chilly role as the stepmother with an unwanted house guest who is not to be trusted with her young baby.
If at times this feels like watching people under a microscope, it is John Light as the buttoned-up Pierre, working through his own issues with an emotionally unavailable father, and unseamed by love and regret, who delivers the play’s most devastating moments.
But if this didn’t reach down as deep into the gut as the previous two, the trope of telling our children that we are proud of them, and recognising when things are not ‘just a phase’ has never seemed more true.