The Father, Ustinov Studio, Bath Theatre Royal

The Father-309-credit Simon AnnandAS the population lives longer and new miracle foods and anti-ageing remedies are proclaimed daily, the effects of dementia are increasingly familiar to us.

And as medical research discovers new causes and effects, it’s hard to be unaware of this irreversible, unpredictable encroaching state.

French writer Florian Zeller’s award-winning play Le Pere has been translated into English by Christopher Hampton, and has its UK premiere at Bath’s Ustinov Studio, until Saturday 15th November.

“Theatre can usefully, and immediately, hold up a mirror to its audience, allowing us to recognise and so to understand ourselves a little better,” says Zeller.

And that mirror image is emphasised by Miriam Buether’s design at the Ustinov, brightly lit by Guy Hoare with a soundscape of fragmented Bach’n’scratch designed by Christopher Shutt.

An elderly man, played here by Kenneth Cranham, is losing the plot, and his decline is shown in flashback, waking dream, fear and reality. The brilliance of this play is that the audience never quite knows which they are observing, catapulting them into the world of of the demented, brain cells making the wrong connections.

The Father-38-credit Simon AnnandFor anyone who has closely observed dementia (fashionably now pronounced de-men-sha) or Alzheimer’s Disease, this is a horrifyingly recognisable portrait.

Sometimes the father does not recognise his daughter, he is obsessed with time and specifically with his wristwatch, he constantly accuses his carers of theft, he might even have threatened them physically. When a new young pretty nurse arrives he puts on a little act, all twinkling eyes and wicked stories. And then he breaks down.

The audience sees the whole through the eyes of the father and the caring daughter.

Performances, particularly and heartbreakingly poignant by Cranham and Lia Williams as daughter Anne, perfectly capture the helpless trap in which each is held.

It’s no wonder this play won France’s highest theatrical award (a Moliere) for its writer, and James Macdonald’s Bath production does it proud.



Photographs by Simon Annand

Posted in Reviews on .