Florian Zeller‘s The Father has been knocking around for a while now and is currently back in the West End for a season that is limited even by today’s limited season standards before heading out on tour.
Ravetastic reviews from pretty much everyone. “The most acclaimed new play of the decade” trumpets the poster which raises expectations beyond reasonable expectation. Though even Andrew, who caught it at The Wyndhams last year, bestowed the compliment “clever” on it and since it tackles the zeitghastly subject of dementia, (something Phil has close personal experience of), well, it just had to be seen.
And clever it is. A daughter, Anne (Amanda Drew) looks after her elderly father, Andre (Kenneth Cranham) in a Paris apartment. How his dementia impacts on her, her partner, and her father himself, is pretty much all you need to know as the play springs some disconcerting surprises along the way. Most reviews have given away too much about the play. The less you know the more unsettled you’ll be.
In a series of economical, deceptively simple scenes, interspersed by slightly overlong blackouts, Zeller (in a translation by Christopher Hampton) attempts to take us into the mind of Andre. If it all sounds a bit gloomy there’s a sprinkling of dark comedy throughout and even a bit of tap-dancing, performed in pyjamas, no less. Jim jams and tap probably won Andrew over rather than the Pinteresque tropes Phil thought he saw lurking throughout the nicely short, interval-free 90 minutes.
If it doesn’t really bring much to the table that you don’t already know, especially if you have dealings with the illness, it was all thoroughly engaging, convincingly acted and gently disturbing.
But what discombobulated Phil even more than the play itself, was the ordertorium menus in the back of every seat at the Duke of York’s. What’s this disturbing new trend? You can choose and order drinks and snacks (Pringles/Corkers Crisps/2 litres of popcorn – salted or sweet – grrr) to be brought to your seat before the show, presumably because you’re so used to eating copious amounts of snackery you can’t – or can’t be bothered to – get off your fat arse to go and get them yourself.
We can’t wait to see people waving their stupid menus in the air shouting “Waiter/usher, what’s the noisiest, most annoying nibbles on offer today?”. Though even worse, you can order it through an App too, which will only further encourage people to use their phones in the theatre. For the record, this was the 5th consecutive time in Phil’s theatre and cinema outings he’d had to ask/tell someone to turn off their glowing screen.
And if you think you’ve seen it all. The woman next to Phil waved her hand wildly in the air to her late-arriving companion to attract his attention. Yes, you’re ahead of us here. This was after the play had stated.
Theatregoers are getting progressively worse and managements don’t help by not having phone warnings before the show. Laurence Fox has no need to apologise for his outburst (that was saltier than the Duke of York’s popcorn) last week. We feel his pain.
It may still be theatre, but not as Phil used to know it. Or indeed wants to know it.