When The Father opens, it appears to be straightforward comedy about Alzheimers. In other words, easy laughs at the way the old man can’t remember things.
By scene two, when one woman goes into the kitchen and a new actor comes back out, it’s clear we are in a very different play, a drama in which we are inside the father’s head and are as confused by what’s going on as he is. By the end, I was as emotionally wrung out as him.
My mother had Alzheimers, which may have made me recognise the grief more, but experiencing the man’s desperate retreat into second childhood at the end had me in tears. It was an acting tour-de-force by Kenneth Cranham.
The Father, directed by James McDonald,is a French play written by Florian Zeller, who is clearly a huge talent, and translated by Christopher Hampton, whose credits include the hit translation of Art. Claire Skinner provided excellent support.
The first course Anthony Horowitz’s witty play is better than the second
Dinner With Saddam by Anthony Horowitz has a winning way with witty dialogue and farce.
As the harassed head of the household in war torn Iraq, Sanjeev Bhaskar’s reactions both facial and verbal are very funny and his comic timing is perfect. It should be said that the whole cast was good.
You could say the first course of Dinner with Saddam is better than the second. The second act loses impetus with the arrival of Saddam Hussein (Steven Berkoff) and a massive dose of politics. It’s not that I didn’t find the analysis of the West’s position on Iraq interesting but it simply wasn’t that funny.
The Menier Chocolate Factory is a wonderful place for a theatre, intimate and exciting. This was my first visit. It won’t be my last.
I fell in love with theatre as a child and have been going now for over fifty years. I’ve seen hundreds of performances and I nearly always enjoy the experience but it’s very rare that I recapture the excitement I felt when I first sat in a theatre and the lights went down and actors came on stage to tell a story.
But it happened when I saw Arthur Miller’sA View From The Bridge at the Young Vic back in 2014. It is a brilliantly written play about a man’s obsession with his wife’s teenage niece but this was all about the production and the acting.
Mark Strong, Nicola Walker and Phoebe Fox played the three central characters- a husband, wife and the niece whom they had raised. The stage, with the audience on three sides, was completely bare. The actors were in bare feet. Everything in Ivo Van Hove’s production was was focused on the words and the acting. And what acting.
Having great dialogue helps but you still need to be able to speak it with conviction. This company’s deep understanding- of the words, the rhythms, the nuances, the silences, the looks- drew me into their world totally.
Everything That Is Best In Theatre
At the Young Vic, I was completely absorbed in the underlying sexual tension between the husband and his surrogate daughter, the self deception and the looming inevitable tragedy. The only ‘prop’ was music, an emotional extension of the human voice, used to great effect.
When the end came, there was one coup de theatre that made my jaw drop. As all the characters drew into a huddle in the middle of which a fatal fight was taking place, what I first thought was water (like tears) began pouring on them from above. Then I realised it was red and soon the actors and the stage were soaked in blood.
It was a simple enough effect and may even sound over the top, but coming at the culmination of such a tense two hours, it was stunning. It was a moment when time stood still. It was everything that is best in theatre and why I have had a love affair with the stage for over fifty years.