In the opening scene of The Father the audience drops in on a conversation between a father and his daughter. Judging by the tears in Anne’s eyes it is clear that this is not the first time they have had this particular conversation. His tears, in turn, express his ras-le-bol. A French term with no literal English translation, ras-le-bol is used to express annoyance or frustration: although some words in Florian Zeller’s Le Père might have been slightly tweaked in Christopher Hampton’s translation, the raw emotion is not lost.
Marius Weyers (Andre) stars alongside Anthea Thompson (Anne) in The Father at the Fugard Theatre. The play gives the audience a unique view of life through the eyes of a man with dementia, and his daughter’s balancing act of taking care of him and being with her partner Pierre (Brent Palmer). The cast is rounded off with Amy Louise Wilson (Laura the caregiver) and Emily Child (Woman) and Nicholas Pauling as Man.
Having grown up watching Marius Weyers on television it was quite an honour seeing him on stage. One notable series he starred in was Song vir Katryn were he played a scene-stealing role as a man with advanced Alzheimer’s. With Andre, Weyers gets to really let loose, by not going that… well… loose at all. He keeps the character tight, authentic.
This approach is true to the heart of the play. The Father does not rely on big reveals and dramatic twists to move along the narrative. It is a highly visual production. With frosted glass sliding panels, the set changes dynamically within seconds, almost as fast as the actors switch roles. At curtain call the stage looked so full with the whole cast of six that, having been completely drawn into Andre’s mindset, I genuinely wondered “Who are you people?”.
Up until Wednesday evening I was not a fan of Anthea Thompson, simply because her brand of comedy is not my cup of tea. Her drama on the other hand is superb. Consider me converted. Thompson brings a regal quality to the character of Anne, refusing to be pitied. One can’t help but be in her corner.
Birrie Le Roux’s costume design is so sleek the cast won’t be able to walk on the street without being harassed by a ‘street style’ blogger. Except for Andre’s sloppy red robe of course. This robe and Laura’s red Tony sneakers are the only pops of colour in an otherwise monochrome palette, bookending the cast’s attire in a sense, echoing that Andre is in the winter of his life while the young Laura is in the spring of hers.
Despite dealing with a very dark subject matter, The Father does not leave its audience feeling drained. Maybe a bit nostalgic, but mostly more educated on a human condition that befalls many.
The Father runs at The Fugard Studio until 3 December 2016.[Editor’s note: Florian Zeller’s The Mother (also by Florian Zuelle, translated by Christopher Hampton) is set to have its South African premiere at the Fugard Studio from 7 February 2017 and will run until 4 March 2017. Directed by Janice Honeyman, it features an all-South African cast headed by Anna-Mart van der Merwe with Graham Hopkins, Sven Ruygrok and Amy Louise Wilson.]