Theatre review: The Father at Tricycle Theatre

The Father at the Tricycle Theatre. Kenneth Cranham (Andre). Photo credit: Simon Annand

The Father at the Tricycle Theatre. Kenneth Cranham (Andre). Photo credit: Simon Annand - Credit: Archant

This savagely powerful play takes us inside dementia, says Marianka Swain.

At its best, theatre doesn’t just communicate ideas or invite distanced empathy. It completely immerses us in the experience of another human being. Florian Zeller won France’s top drama prize, the Molière Award, for his 2014 play, and Christopher Hampton’s meticulous translation retains its savage power to plunge audiences into the world of a dementia sufferer.

Octogenarian André gets a visit from daughter Anne, who announces she’s moving to London with a new boyfriend. Moments later, Anne is played by a different actress and she’s married. Then she’s alone. In fact, this isn’t André’s Paris apartment – it’s Anne’s. The faces of family members and carers blur, while the rhythms of domestic life skip and stutter like the fractured piano music played between scenes. André can no longer be certain of anything, and neither can we.

This disorientation is made all the more chilling by James Macdonald’s measured naturalism. The tragedy is everyday, mundane, all too familiar. There’s no escape through melodrama or sentimentalising, and stylistic tricks are used for greater understanding, not broadcasting creative cleverness. Miriam Buether’s chic, increasingly minimalist set becomes a devastating visual metaphor for André’s loss.

Kenneth Cranham’s contemporary Lear does not go gently. In a performance of great emotional intelligence, he counters encroaching darkness with wit, cunning, fury and finally desperate supplication. Claire Skinner is subtly moving as the dutiful daughter he subjects to casual cruelty, and there’s perfectly pitched support from Jade Williams, Rebecca Charles, Jim Sturgeon and Colin Tierney – the latter pair embodying Pinteresque ambiguous menace.

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The master’s influence is apparent, too, in the elusive memories and stark role reversals, the authoritarian patriarch regressing to sobbing child. But the haunting power of this piece is Zeller’s own, bringing cold horror disturbingly close to home.

Rating: 5/5 stars

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