August and September.
There is an oft-used quote by L P Hartley in The Go Between that the past is a foreign country. Of course they do things differently there but nevertheless the past is one’s home, it’s where you come from and where you will return to when there is little future left. The future is a void which is slowly filled and informed, day by day, by the past. When there is no past there is only the void. To have no past is to have no future. Sorry to use a cliché, but one’s life is like a jigsaw to which one gradually adds pieces. When you are old the picture becomes complete and you can spend your twilight years with the memories it provides.
This is the dreadful thing about dementia – your past, your life, seeps away, leaving a void and nothing but misery for yourself and those close to you. Florian Zeller’s masterpiece of a play depicts the slow descent of André, an eighty-year-old man who, at the start of the play, is living alone in his Paris apartment – or is he? He claims to have been a tap-dancer, but was he? Can his memory be trusted?
Zeller states that his avowed intent is to hold a mirror up to his audience and in The Father we are all drawn in to André’s ever more confusing world. Of the other characters, we are never sure who is who. Who is the daughter, who is her husband? Has a piece of on-stage furniture gone missing or are we imagining it? Have we already heard that exchange about having chicken for dinner and who is that tall, strange man that keeps appearing? All aspects of the play and its production involve us totally.
The play is cut up into small segments but one is never sure if the progress is linear or chronological, whether one is looking forwards or backwards. Between each short scene there is a blackout with music playing. But the music is disjointed like a cracked gramophone record or an electrical glitch in an MP3 track which gets more pronounced with each episode. During the blackout, dark, unseen silent forces are at work on stage, subtlety changing the set. What starts as a warm coloured, domestic environment finishes up as a stark white hospital room.
The Father is a play of outstanding quality the like of which you will rarely see. From the above description it sounds heavy going, but it certainly is not. One is entertained, enthralled and involved. The ninety minutes, without interval, flash by in an instant leaving a certain emptiness but most of all, admiration. This is a subject that will probably touch us all to a greater or lesser degree and while The Father will not ease the misery it will hopefully help us to understand a little better. ★★★★★ Michael Hasted
A Dutch production of De Vater will be touring Holland in August and September visiting Amsterdam, Den Haag, Eidhoven, Amstelveen, Heerlen and Delft. Click here for tickets and details.