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THE FATHER – Richmond Theatre, Richmond.

The-Father-Photo-by-Mark-Douet-C31B8528-e1460629441954Be warned. You will need tissues for this one. Kenneth Cranham is delivering one of the most heartbreaking and finest performances you will ever witness in Florian Zeller’s award winning masterpiece The Father, currently at Richmond Theatre, in the midst of a UK tour and following numerous West End residencies. It’s no surprise Cranham doesn’t want to stop performing in the play. Here is an actor at the peak of his power, and after many years of working in various television programmes and theatrical institutions like the National and RSC, he has recently been thrust into the spotlight as the deserved winner of this years Best Actor at the Laurence Olivier Awards.

Cranham plays Andre, an older French man, whose memory and sense of time is quickly fading as he battles Alzheimer’s. As the play progresses we witness Andre’s speedy deterioration. Playwright Zeller cleverly manipulates the audience, so that we ourselves are confused as characters re-appear, disappear, furniture is changed around and all sense of time and place is lost. It’s an ingenious way of forcing the audience into questioning their own memory, and Zeller, along with his English translator Christopher Hampton, superbly capture the frustration felt not only by Andre but by the people around him as his condition worsens.

Although Cranham deservedly takes centre stage, The Father also explores the complex relationship between parent and child – especially when those roles are reversed as Andre’s daughter Anne is forced to care for him. Amanda Drew plays Anne in this incarnation (having taken the mantle from Lia Williams in Bath, and then Claire Skinner, whom I saw in the Tricycle Theatre run of the play). Drew is on simply dazzling form and it’s an absolute treat to see one of today’s finest actresses in this role. Anne’s father’s illness forces Anne to unravel her own feeling towards her father and this terrible and unexpected situation. Drew’s dream-like monologue, in which she describes a sleepless night where she awakens and enters her father’s bedroom with horrifying results, is some of the best acting you’ll see on a stage this year. Drew is giving yet another masterclass in nervy repression and is completely mesmerizing throughout.

As the play hurtles towards its heartbreaking denoument, the tears begin to stream, not only for the characters in the play, but for our own fears of what the future may hold for both our parents and ourselves.

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Reviewed 11/4/16

by Rory Maxwell

12th – 16th April 2016
Richmond Theatre, London, TW9 1QJ, then UK tour.

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