Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Father; Teddy Ferrara

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Father; Teddy Ferrara

Article excerpt

The Father

Wyndham's Theatre, booking to 21 November

Teddy Ferrara

Donmar, until 5 December

The Father , set in a swish Paris apartment, has a beautifully spare and elegant set. The stage is framed by a slender rectangle of dazzling white dots which impart an air of incalculable and almost intimidating opulence to the show. I felt I was lucky to be there. Here's the plot. Kenneth Cranham plays a doddery old sausage whose daughter and her husband want to dump him in a nursing home. Will they succeed? That's the plot. Writer Florian Zeller uses pranks and false starts to create suspense and to illustrate Dad's scrambled mentality. Different actors play the daughter, the son-in-law and the day-nurse. At first this is gratifyingly weird but repetition makes it seem meagre and banal. Other effects stress the same point. Furniture is removed between scenes and the apartment gradually empties out until nothing remains but a white cube. A disjointed piano score reminds us that Dad's old bonce is on the blink.

A play that spends so much time misdirecting the audience has little room for character development. These people are barely stereotypes: dotty dad, fretting daughter, huffy son-in-law, nice nurse. There's a background murmur of violence too. It starts when the daughter, alone on stage, imagines herself throttling Dad as he sleeps. She hardly seems capable of such a crime but her speech lends credibility to later scenes of actual brutality. And tricky Zeller leaves it unclear whether the violence is real or just a figment of Dad's crocked brain. Neither case covers the production in glory. If it's real the characters are grisly sadists. If it's imaginary the spectators are grisly voyeurs. Had I seen this play in my thirties, when my parents were heading for their seventies, I'd have assented to its unstated premise that care homes for the elderly are akin to despatching them to the workhouse or the Dignitas clinic. I now understand that residential care is a benign and natural solution to a problem that is itself a kind of blessing. I also know that agency nurses are nothing like the slim, perky young blonde who attends to Kenneth Cranham here by swapping jokes with him over a malt whisky. A real geriatric nurse is likely to be a demure, wise Senegalese Christian teetotaller the size of a tugboat.

The audience coughed and fidgeted irritably throughout this play and yet at the end they leaped to their feet to roar their approval as if the author had single-handedly destroyed Islamic State, cured cancer, found life on Mars and bought everyone a choc-ice. …

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