As the lights go up in The Gate Theatre, we are transported to an apartment in Paris. This is owned by André, an ailing man suffering from dementia, who is having a conversation with his daughter about her impending move to London. Or is it her apartment? Is she actually moving to London? In Florian Zeller’s The Father, we enter the realm of utter confusion which André inhabits on a permanent basis. Scenes are fractured and timings disjointed, as both we and Andre try to figure out exactly what is going on.
Owen Roe is masterful as André, the stoic central character struggling to cling onto his dignity as his mind rapidly disintegrates. André’s daughter Anne (Fiona Bell) struggles under the strain of coping with her father’s intermittent mood swings coupled with his failure to recognize who she is. The play takes a chilling turn with the introduction of Anne’s frustrated partner Pierre (Simon O’Gorman), whose callous line, ‘How long do you plan to stick around, getting on everyone tits?’ sends palpable ripples through the audience.
This is a truly excellent performance of Florian Zeller’s tragicomedy. The set design by Francis O’Connor, a minimalist white room framed by a large white lighted border, enhances the disjointed chronology of the play. From the start of the performance we are completely drawn in. We laugh at André’s make-believe tales of years gone by: ‘I was a tap dancer, you know’, and recoil with shock when his flashes of anger and resentment raise their ugly head. As the play concludes with a broken André crying on the ground, clinging to a nurse for dear life, we are left shaken, fearful and visibly moved by what we have just witnessed. Leaving the theatre, no one speaks. There is little chatter in the air – this in itself speaks volumes. The Father is a truly haunting insight into one proud man’s descent into terrifying infantilism.