Kenneth Cranham and Claire Skinner
in The Father at the Tricycle Theatre, London
c Simon Annand
015 – The Father, by Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton
Florian Zeller’s award-winning play The Father presents a piercing portrait of a family living with dementia. Anyone who has witnessed the cruel effects of the disease will recognise painful truths in the portrayal of the father, Andre, and his daughter, Anne as they struggle to navigate the practical and emotional challenges. The play gains its unsettling power not just from the accuracy of its observations, but also from its inventive dramatic form, where the unities of time and space are disrupted in a way that results in our vicariously experiencing Andre’s mental confusion.
The Father premiered in Paris in 2012, winning the 2014 Moliere Award for Best Play. It translated into English by Christopher Hampton and opened at the Theatre Royal Bath in 2014 before transferring to the Tricycle Theatre in London and then to the West End for two runs. It was also produced on Broadway in 2016, and has won both Olivier and Tony awards for best actor in the title role for Kenneth Cranham and Frank Langella respectively.
The Father has also been made into a feature film, directed by Florian Zeller and co-written with Christopher Hampton, and with a stellar cast including Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Coleman, Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell and Olivia Williams. Congratulations to Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton who since we recorded this episode have won an Academy Award and a BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Father!
I’m delighted and honoured to welcome none other than Sir Christopher Hampton as my guest on this episode of the podcast.
Sir Christopher Hampton
Sir Christopher is a renowned playwright and screenwriter whose plays have so far garnered four Tony Awards, three Oliviers, and five Evening Standard awards. His work for film and television has won him an Oscar for the screenplay based on his play Les Liaisons Dangereuse, as well as two BAFTAs, a special jury award at Cannes, the Prix Italia and a Writers’ Guild of America. Space will not permit us to list all of his work, other than to reference a few notable titles from his own plays, which include Total Eclipse, The Philanthropist, and Tales from Hollywood, translations of classics from Ibsen, Chekhov, Moliere, as well as Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage and Art. His screenplays include Carrington, The Quiet American, and Atonement, for which he received another Oscar nomination.
In addition to The Father he has translated no fewer than four more of Florian Zeller’s plays, including The Mother, The Son, The Truth, The Lie, and The Height of the Storm.
Sir Christopher was knighted in the New Year’s Honours list in January 2020 for services to drama.
Our brief Footnotes to our episode on The Father expand on the subjects of the changing set in the play, and the significance of Andre’s watch.
Caryl Churchill’s stunning play Escaped Alone presents an ordinary scene of four women of a certain age chatting over tea in a suburban garden. Of course not all is as tranquil as it appears, for each of the women harbour dark personal anxieties, and from time to time one of them steps away from the garden to share news with us about apocalyptic disasters that have struck the world. Produced at the Royal Court in 2016, Churchill’s vision of a world overcome by collective disaster has proved to be extraordinarily prophetic. Joining me to explore our first Churchill play is Professor Elaine Aston, author of a monograph on Caryl Churchill as well as the editor of the Cambridge Companion to Caryl Churchill.
Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey caused a sensation when it appeared at the Theatre Royal Stratford in 1958 because of its frank portrayal of a working-class, single mother and daughter, as well as its bold representations of a mixed-race relationship and a young homosexual as a central character. Delaney sent her first play to the renowned director Joan Littlewood who helped develop it into an historic production which went on to the West End and Broadway. Professor Nadine Holdsworth helps us to explore the enduring power and relevance of the play.
Girl from the North Country is an extraordinary collaboration between the playwright Conor McPherson and the musician and song writer Bob Dylan. The result is a magical work where McPherson’s portrait of families struggling to survive in Depression America is transfigured into an uplifting theatrical experience by the ravishing period arrangements of Dylan’s songs.
The play opened at the Old Vic Theatre in London in 2017 to a rapturous response and reviews, and was followed by runs in the West End and New York.
This is a very special episode, first because I am privileged to talk with none other than the play’s author Conor McPherson, and secondly because we have also been given kind permission to include several extracts from the original cast recording of the music from the first London production.
Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.
Another great mix of shows this month, from Tom Stoppard’s new play, to Ibsen, Beckett and newer plays in smaller London venues.
The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country …