I’d heard lots of good things about Florian Zeller’s The Father, which started its UK life in the Ustinov Studio, Bath, before moving to the Tricycle and then to the West End. I finally managed to catch it in its final week at Wyndham’s Theatre before it heads off on a national tour.
The 90-minute play, directed by James Macdonald and translated by Christopher Hampton from the original French, explores what it is like to suffer from Alzheimer’s. At the beginning, we see what looks like the setup for an ordinary family drama: an elderly man, Andre, converses with his daughter Anne. However, scene by scene, we discover that all is not as it seems. “Anne” is portrayed by different actors; the truth of what is happening changes from scene to scene; the flat sometimes seems to belong to Anne and sometimes to Andre; and in the midst of it all, the furniture slowly disappears from Miriam Buether’s smart set, leaving Andre eventually occupying an empty void.
We never really know what the truth is: who is the “real” Anne, what is really going on in her life, who the flat belongs to. Yet this isn’t particularly important: instead, it serves to illustrate what is going on in Andre’s mind: his family are strangers to him, he is no longer certain of what is real and what isn’t. Through it all, Kenneth Cranham gives a superb, sympathetic, nuanced and dignified performance as Andre, with Claire Skinner also excellent as his daughter Anne.
The Father is a hugely moving play, which I think would have particular resonance for anyone closely affected by Alzheimer’s. If you haven’t had a chance to catch this play yet, keep an eye out for it on tour: there’s a reason it has enjoyed such huge success.