Simple, effortless, genius
Anne and Andre have been at crisis point for some time now. A missing watch, a new nurse or the constant moving of furniture around his Parisian apartment provide an endless source of crises for Andre. For Anne, there’s only one, which her barely concealed frustration and resentment have no solution for. Namely, how to take care of her father whose memory is fading before her. In Christopher Hampton’s wonderful translation of Florian Zeller’s excellent ‘The Father,’ the onset of dementia and its steady progress reveals itself as a double curse. A curse for those taken by it and for their loved ones helpless to stop it. Never sentimentalising, never sensationalising, never shirking away, ‘The Father,’ shows an effortlessness and simplicity that borders on genius, in The Gate Theatre's towering production of a modern classic.
Zeller’s script is built on the ingeniously simple premise of allowing the audience to experience the confusion at the heart of Andre’s condition. As ‘The Father’ progresses it becomes near impossible at times to be certain what, when or who exactly Andre is seeing or talking to. Francis O’Connor’s excellent set design, marrying the clinical with the warmth of home, provides an almost letterbox focus through which we peer at the inevitability taking place. Against which Rick Fisher’s lighting design perfectly captures the dying of memory, its snapping on and off as if in constant reset, or its soft fading of the light. Technically there is not an ounce of fat to be found anywhere, and the same holds true for ‘The Father’s' sterling ensemble.
Peter Gaynor, Charlotte McCurry, Simon O’ Gorman and Sophie Robinson are all excellent in their supporting roles, crafting haunting moments of tenderness or casual violence, frustration and laughter which inform the plight of Anne and Andre. Fiona Bell’s performance as the dutiful, less loved daughter, Anne, weighed down by fear, guilt and responsibility is a quiet revelation. As is Owen Roe’s Andre, whose forgetting and forgotten man, visibly fading on stage, is utterly unforgettable. Throughout, director Ethan McSweeny ensures performances are never overwhelming, never reaching for the big moment, and never understated. They’re simply unforced, looking like they're not doing anything particularly special, appearing both natural and effortless, and therefore all the more humane, terrifying and vulnerable because of it.
‘The Father’s’ genius construction, along with its simplicity in language, sets up a directness that reinforces the sense of vulnerability, dread and subtle horror that accompanies dementia. In the end, life may well be for the living, and those gone in all but body may need someone or somewhere else to tend them so the living may live. ‘The Father’ recognises this possibility, as well as the sense of helplessness, frustration and guilt that accompany it, and the terror of those who know not what is to become of them. Both the sufferer and those who love them may need the kindness of a stranger, and ‘The Father’ recognises that those who step into that role with genuine compassion are more precious than gold.
This might be Michael Colgan’s final season at The Gate, but he’s certainly kept one of the best wines till last. 'The Father' is an extraordinary production of an extraordinary play. Superb and unmissable.
‘The Father’ by Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton, runs at The Gate Theatre as part of The Dublin Theatre Festival until October 22nd
For more information, visit The Gate Theatre or Dublin Theatre Festival