I didn’t catch The Father when it was at the Tricycle, so I completely missed any hype about it – best new French play of 2014 – but I did see some nice things said about it once it made it to Wyndhams. One of the things I found appealing was a 90 minute running time – ideal for after work – and, as it turns out, rather affordable seats (my back of stalls jobs were £35 and clearly cheaper can be had as the upper sections of the house were closed off when I went).
So …. we have a father (Kenneth Cranham) and his daughter, Anne (Claire Skinner), and dad is obviously a bit unwell as Anne’s need to have a carer around. Dad’s been fighting with the carer – she’s a thief! Or, actually, she’s not – Dad just forgot where he put his watch. And (scene change) maybe Anne isn’t really his daughter, maybe it’s a woman with brown hair. And what about dinner? Didn’t Anne’s husband go into the kitchen with a chicken? But Anne says she hasn’t been married for years … so who’s this other guy? And who is making Dad cry? (And can someone please tell me why Dad prefers his other daughter so much and why he has to constantly mention she’s the one he really loves?)
A lot of elements of this play are just perfect. I loved the way it showed the way time elides for those with Alzheimers, backwards, forwards, sideways, while simultaneously there are moments of pure lucidity that make both the patient and the carer unsure of just how well the patient is. I also enjoyed the realistic depiction of the truly incredible stress it puts on all the family – from the carer who’s life is taken over, to the partner who’s totally lost the ability to have a family life other than as a carer’s adjunct, to the father who simultaneously argues his wellness while abusing people and is also himself the victim of abuse.
However, the desire to show non-narrative time wound up leaving me feeling too jounced around. While I got answers to some questions, I was never sure about most of the ones concerning the daughter, and the experience of time began to seem to me more important than actually expressing a plot. In the end, this was an interesting play, but not, I think, an excellent one; still, it was worth my time and certainly deserves its West End run.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, November 16, 2015. It continues through November 21st.)