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The Father - Theatre Review

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by dpm (subscribe)
dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
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Kenneth Cranham receives a standing ovation in Zeller play
Florian Zeller's taut drama about a father suffering from Alzheimer's disease has won plaudits during its West End run and now it's on tour.

Its short run at Birmingham Rep has been long awaited and a standing ovation for Kenneth Cranham as André, the troubled father, was well-deserved.

What sets Zeller's play apart is his aim to take the audience into the mind of André so that we are not just witnessing its disintegration but experiencing it.

Kenneth Cranham and Amanda Drew in The Father
Kenneth Cranham and Amanda Drew in The Father

And so The Father is a series of scenes which chop and change timescales, locations, characters and scenarios rather than a clear narrative. This kaleidoscope of recollections jumble to the audience in the same way they are jumbled in André's head - leaving us all unsure of what really happened and what was a misplaced memory.

These fragments juxtapose each other so that one moment we see André's daughter Anne telling him she's moving to London with a new partner and in the next she is with her husband denying any knowledge of such a conversation. As these contradictions continue to build we share André's uncertainty of what is real.

This production needs a strong actor at its helm – someone totally believable as the muddled André and Cranham has a firm grip on the role. Together with him, we experience his confusion, frustration, anger and despair as he swings between lucidity and incomprehension. Amanda Drew wins our sympathy as daughter Anne who wants to support her father but doesn't know how to.

Translated by Christopher Hampton, the dialogue fizzes with the spoken, the unspoken and the misunderstood as characters who love each other become lost in each other's confusion in an unrelenting spiral of uncertainty.

Directed by James MacDonald and designed by Miriam Buether, the sets diminish as André's mind loses its tether. This very visual minimisation of the staging reflects the disappearances in André's mind.

The Father makes for uncomfortable viewing and for some people with personal experience of loved ones with dementia it could be particularly harrowing. But it's an impressive window into an issue which rarely makes the stage in its true colours.
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Why? Kenneth Cranham takes on the role of a father with Alzheimer's disease
When: until May 7
Phone: 0121 236 4455
Where: Birmingham Rep
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