THE FATHER - MELBOURNE
THE FATHER, Melbourne Theatre Company, Fairfax Theatre Arts Centre Melbourne 2 November-16 December 2017. Photography by Philip Erbacher: above - Anita Hegh and John Bell; below - John Bell
The Father by Florian Zeller and translated by Christopher Hampton is a brilliantly crafted piece of writing; so deserving of the accolades it has received around the world. He is masterful in the psychological he surreptitiously and overtly gets the audience to question where they are, to make judgement on people and things, mirroring that of an elderly person losing their independence and moving into dementia – very clever.
Set in large apartment/s in Paris where Andre (John Bell) resides, his home his place of comfort, his domain. Andre’s daughter Anne (Anita Hegh) calls in as often as her busy life allows; she hires carers for him most of whom leave after being insulted once too often. When a person’s independence is slowly whittled away anger and frustration bubbles forth. The new carer (Faustina Agolley) makes a great first impression and Andre plays his wily ways to the full, until the error of treating him as a child and using the demeaning royal ‘we’ and making pill taking like feeding a 2-year-old, she too is banished. The next step therefore for Anne is to consider putting Andrea into the next level of care – for his own good!
We are given glimpses of what Andre sees and what and how he reacts to people in his apartment taking over. You really think it is happening. Strange people in his home pretending to be husbands, a woman (Natasha Herbert) he thinks is pretending to be his daughter. His daughters husband (Marco Chiappi) unhappy with Anne’s all-consuming father or is it the man (Glenn Hazeldine) pretending to be the ex-husband. Isn’t Anne in London? All these questions have reactions especially when the man moves into elder abuse territory.
The set (Alicia Clements) shifts before our eyes – Andre’s apartment, Anne’s apartment, a dementia ward – is it? It had the feel of a European apartment, spacious, smart.
Black outs in the theatre can often be hit and miss, in this production it was masterful and slick. Coupled with a sound design that kept you ready. I found the black outs and sound, even at a high decibel, compelling. Being moved by the music and staring into the black void. With lights up I found myself checking what had moved, working out where were we now? The scenes vignette-like.
John Bell is brilliant as Andre. He makes you smile, he makes you laugh at his child like naughtiness and ultimately, he breaks your heart. He is riveting. Having witnessed personally how an elderly person holds so dearly to their independence who wants to know ‘how did it get to this’ and ultimately crying for the arms of their mother. Bell’s ultimate cry for help, tipped me over.
Damian Ryan’s direction is flawless.
Hegh as the concerned and all consumed daughter is terrific. Herbert and Hazeldine as Woman and Man respectively add that je ne sais quoi that takes this play into the psychological. Chiappi needs a bit more edge in a tough ask roll and Agolley worked well as the playful carer.
The stage management need to be acknowledged for their seamless black out set changes.
Ultimately though, this is Bell’s show, he is a truly magnificent. A must see.