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The Father at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre – review

PUBLISHED: 14:03 01 April 2016 | UPDATED: 14:03 01 April 2016

Kenneth Cranham plays the role with gentle perfection (Photo: Simon Annand)

Kenneth Cranham plays the role with gentle perfection (Photo: Simon Annand)

Archant

As our aging population lives longer, so the chances of us knowing someone with dementia increases, and hence The Father, a sensitive but honest play by the Frenchman Florian Zeller, will speak to most of us. Transferring to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, straight from the West End, this is a clever production that strikes an emotional cord without ever being mawkish.

Christopher Hampton’s translation into English loses none of Zeller’s acute observations and stays true to his respectful ability to walk in the shoes of a man whose mind is tumbling down the terrifying waterfall of dementia. ‘The Father’ is a man called Andre who lives in a chic Parisian apartment and obsesses about his missing watch and is surprised by his daughter concern about his welfare. He says, “I feel like I am losing my leaves, they are dropping off one by one.”

Kenneth Cranham plays the role with gentle perfection. When we first meet Andre, he is spritely and amusingly cantankerous, an elderly man who seems on the surface, quite able to continue living alone. But the ensuing banter and interaction with his daughter gives us clues to his inner confusion, and her concern is apparent and understandable. Amanda Drew as his daughter Anne portrays the agonizing dilemma of how to help a parent suffering from dementia. She loves her father, but feels she cannot give up her life for him. She moves him in with her and her husband on a temporary basis, but the strain on them all is tangible.

Director James Macdonald cleverly puts the audience through their mental paces and we begin to wonder is it actually Andre who is confused, or are we ourselves missing something? Each short scene is interspersed with complete darkness and rapid, almost frantic, piano playing of Bach which includes stumbling notes as the story unfolds. Like the mind of a person with progressive dementia it skips a beat, falters a little and slightly slips off track before getting back on course. Relating to the gradual crumbling of Andre’s mind, it is painfully effective and the moments of darkness give us time to ponder on the out-of-kilter sequence of events on stage - did they actually happen, or was it something we misunderstood?

The joy of the script is that it tells the story crispy, cleanly and not a word is wasted. It is an honest 90 minutes of theatre - poignant, yet with elements of farce amongst the tragedy of a very touching, everyday tale about the relationship between an elderly man and his daughter.

Tony Award nominee Kenneth Cranham reprises his unforgettable performance in the West End for this UK tour - joined by a brilliant cast of Amanda Drew, Rebecca Charles, Brian Doherty and Jade Williams.

• The Father plays at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford until Saturday April 2. Box office 01483 440000 / www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk

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