The Father by Florian Zeller at Oldham’s Coliseum
You have come to see a play which follows the progress of a dementia sufferer as his condition deteriorates. It is likely to be a moving, poignant experience, particularly if you know, or have known, someone with this condition and the frustration and stress of dealing with it: the attempts to disentangle the confusing threads of understanding; patience required for the constant repetitions; and tolerance of hurtful remarks directed at carers.
With such expectations, you arrive in the auditorium of the Oldham Coliseum for a performance of Florian Zeller’s The Father (translation – Christopher Hampton). The first thing you see there, in front of the stage, is a piano with its innards exposed and horribly distorted. As the characters in the play appear, you are further disconcerted because, apart from the father who suffers from dementia, it is not easy to work out who is who. Nor do the happenings occur in a logical, chronological order. Then it dawns on you. You are experiencing the world as perceived by the father – a series of apparently unconnected episodes, confusion as to the identity of those around him, and the location of the physical surroundings.
As a theatrical conception, it works brilliantly because the bewilderment which you share with the Father tethers you to his fate and generates a power of involvement in the piece which a conventional, linear exposition of his decline could never have matched. Add to this a dialogue which grips you through its insistent rhythms, a production by Kevin Shaw which is beautifully paced, not least with the stillness and darkness which links the dramatic fragments, and acting of the first order (particularly Kenneth Alan Taylor as the father and Kerry Peers as his daughter). Yes, theatre at its very best.
At the curtain call, Kenneth Alan Taylor, a veteran actor familiar to Oldham audiences, thanked Kevin Shaw for having the courage to mount the piece there. I could not agree more.