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Friday 23 October 2015

The Father (Le Père), play by Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton, directed by James MacDonald, Wyndham’s Theatre London, 9* out of 10

Florian Zeller's award-winning play is savagely funny, playful and disconcerting; the cognitive dissonance felt by the protagonist on stage sets out to infect the audience with fear, uncertainty and doubt. Theatre as it should be: relevant and riveting. 

André (Kenneth Cranham) is charming and witty and knows what he wants. He is a former tap dancer and circus artist in his eighties living with his elder daughter Anne (Claire Skinner) and her husband Antoine. No not really. André is a former civil engineer in his 80s living in his own apartment, whose daughter Anne will be moving to London soon. André is intermittently losing his mind. Or is he? André’s daughter Anne is trying to make him believe he is losing his mind in order to lock him away in an institution and take possession of his lovely apartment in Paris. And where is Elise, his younger favourite daughter whom he loves so much? Why is she never coming to visit?

In a series of short scenes at times savagely funny at times uncomfortably disconcerting playwright Florian Zeller makes his audience feel the cognitive dissonance André. Those moments of doubt and uncertainty in the intentions of those he has loved and trusted and in his own ability to correctly interpret what is happening around him and to him – and who he is. 

In Christopher Hampton’s excellent translation from the original French the play does not lose any of its punch – on the contrary. And James MacDonald’s direction keeps the audience's mind riveted to the action. The use of light and music enhance the suspense.  The musical ambience that life, as the title of a film by Eric Rohmer puts it, “is a long tranquil river” breaks into frightening moments straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Gaslight”.  
Amid strong supporting performances by the other members of the cast, Claire Skinner is an excellently understated Anne. Kenneth Cranham is outstanding in the title role. 

Modern theatre that’s everything theatre should be; definitely one to watch.

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