Following his Olivier award win for Best Actor in The Father during it’s run in the West End, Kenneth Cranham reprises the role in a UK tour of the critically acclaimed play.
Originally a French play, the writer Florian Zeller has successfully used theatre to show the effect of Alzheimer’s on a person and the people around them. The play explores what is going on in André’s head, an old French gentleman suffering with the exhausting disease. It is a poignant reflection on real life, as his daughter Anne attempts to come to terms with the diminish of her father and the man she once knew him to be.
It is a well crafted piece of theatre that distorts each scene in order to mirror the confusion inside André’s mind. Each scene that takes place on stage, occurs in André’s head. The staging itself is the front room of an apartment in Paris which is inside a large black screen. This resembles not only the glimpse we get into André’s life, but into the very centre of his thoughts. As each scene transitions to the next, the screen goes into a blackout and light piano music is played, as the play progresses this music becomes more and more warped, to echo the contortion occurring inside his brain.
Scenes between André and his daughter Anne are performed in front of us, yet when the scene changes in an instant, André begins to refer to a conversation they had in the previous scene and Anne responds rather perplexed, stating that the conversation never occurred. This gives the audience a real insight into the disconcerting feeling André is constantly fighting. Another effective way the director James MacDonald has allowed the audience to empathise with André, is that sometimes other actors are used to take the place of the characters Anne, and her husband Pierre. When André doesn’t recognise them and questions who they are, the audience are in the same position.
Cranham exceptionally masters the role of André, his tremendous amount of research into the disease is evident as his interpretation of the character and the intensity of the emotions involved are highly believable. Amanda Drew who plays his daughter Anne, impeccably captures the agonising feeling as her father becomes vacant and detached from his former self, which is portrayed through her heartbreaking monologue.
The dialogue in the play is witty, as it engages the audience in the sarcastic tone of André. Kenneth Cranham masters the role, he excellently switches between the humorous elements of the disease such as the funny stories and silly questions, in contrast to the heart-wrenching moments of stillness where Cranham merely uses his face to portray the utter confusion and frustration. It is almost as if he is giving up on himself, that all the questions constantly whirring around in his head are beginning to mentally debilitate him.
It’s not often a piece of theatre is so utterly heartbreaking that it is almost too painful to watch but Kenneth Cranham provides a breathtaking performance that is outright convincing and entirely moving.
The Father is on at The Birmingham Rep until the 7th of May and tickets can be found here.