Nothing is quite what it seems in The Father.
Did 80 year-old André used to be an engineer….or was he a tap-dancer, as he demonstrates to yet another potential carer?
Does his daughter Anne still live in Paris with her husband Antoine….or has she moved to London with the new love of her life, Pierre?
Is André living in his own apartment….or has he moved in with Anne and Antoine?
Is his other daughter, Élise – whom he constantly tells Anne he loves more than her – dead or alive?
Did his carer really steal his beloved watch….or is his fading memory playing yet another trick?
Has Anne really strangled André as he slept….or just she does wish she had the courage to put them both out of their misery?
Each scene – more confusing than the next – is delineated by immediate blackness and what sounds like the scratchy, jumping intermittence of a dodgy vinyl record. And with the stark awakening of each new scene, a piece of furniture has disappeared from the stage.
This is the brilliant physical evocation of an intelligent man’s gradual descent into dementia, brought vividly to life by the French playwright Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton and acted out by Kenneth Cranham, as ageing, confused André, and by Amanda Drew as the despairing Anne.
It’s an unsettling 90 minutes or so of theatre, but you really feel immersed in the disintegrating mind of poor André and others caught up in his downward spiral.
It’s no surprise it has won France’s highest theatrical honour, the 2014 Molière Award for Best Play, and has played to packed houses in Bath, the West End and now around the UK. But don’t go if you’re hoping for a comedy, or if you have parents of a certain age, whose memory is beginning to fade….