Theatre review by Henry Ascoli
The Father, Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
A heart-wrenching insight into the self-destructive power of the mind, this finely-crafted play challenges perceptions on every level, scratching beneath the surface to provide a fresh perspective on a highly emotive subject.
Christopher Hampton’s sharp translation of Florian Zeller’s highly-acclaimed work, already hugely popular in the West End, immediately makes an impact within the intimate surroundings of the Yvonne Arnaud.
Through a range of simple techniques – objects disappearing from the set and jolty, disfigured musical interludes between scenes, with the stage thrust into complete darkness – we are immersed in the life of 80-year-old Andre, who is starting to submerge into a confused mind and at the mercy of Alzheimer’s.
Conversations and characters merge, memories overlap and fade in and out of focus, and everyday activities present unforeseen challenges, as Andre struggles to stay on track.
The stop-start nature of the dialogue and fleeting appearances of intermingling characters lend a sense of paranoia to proceedings, and suddenly the struggle is all too real: can we really trust anyone in this world within a world?
Indeed, the only constant is Andre’s tireless daughter Anne, whose patience with her father is constantly pushed to the limit, as she struggles to find a moment’s piece amid the mayhem.
We are involved in every aspect of Andre’s spiralling descent from authoritarian father to bed-ridden madman – a painful and poignant journey into the oblivion.
Yet fittingly it is the very final scene which creates the most impact: bed-ridden, fighting off the tears, Andre states: “I feel as if I’m losing all my leaves.” A highly evocative image which lingers in the mind.
We witness a truly outstanding performance from Kenneth Cranham, who captures every nuance of Andre’s character to perfection – moving seamlessly from the endearing cheeky chappy to pitiably confused old man; powerful and evocative throughout.
Amanda Drew similarly immerses herself in the role of Anne, whose kind heart and caring nature are simply not enough to halt her father’s rapid decline, in spite of her tireless efforts. A character with whom many can surely associate, as Alzheimer’s strengthens its iron grip on a generation.
‘The Father’ is one of those rare treats: A powerful, engaging and ultimately rewarding production which perfectly demonstrates the unique characteristics and appeal of theatre.
Not to be missed.
The Father plays on the main stage at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until Saturday 2nd April. To book tickets and find out more, call 01483 440000 or visit www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk