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
Published 12th November 2020
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 now 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. The film was shown at the Sundance and Toronto film festivals earlier this year and will be released in the UK in January 2021, all being well.
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.
Tennessee Williams breakthrough playThe Glass Menagerie is a very personal portrait of Williams’ own flawed family. It first opened on Broadway in March 1945 to rave reviews, it’s box office success catapulting its 34-year old author to fame and fortune. The play is now a standard on educational curricula and theatrical programs, loved for its heart-wrenching portrayal of the hopes and disappointments of its characters, and admired for its theatrical technique and poetic dramatic language.
The play was brilliantly staged in 2013 on Broadway in a production directed by John Tiffany, which was revived in 2017 in London’s West End, and I am absolutely delighted to be joined in this episode by the director himself, John Tiffany, to share his insights into this enduring classic.
It is 2:00 am, and George and Martha have invited a young couple for after-party drinks to their home on a New England university campus. What follows is arguably the most extended and vitriolic marital argument ever staged. Over four hours of drunken skirmishing George and Martha tear strips off each other and their young guests, in a terrifying mix of games playing and truth telling, fuelled by anger, shame, disappointment, hatred and possibly even love. As the hostilities intensify both couples are forced to face unvarnished and difficult truths about themselves and their relationships. This is American playwright Edward Albee’s classic play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which opened on Broadway in 1962, and was greeted by both moral outrage and critical acclaim. Both types of review contributed to its run-away box-office success, and led to the 1966 Oscar-winning film version with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
Joining me to survey the damage of this blistering marital battle are John Mitchinson and Andy MIller, the co-hosts of the award-winning podcast Backlisted, which as its strap line declares “gives new life to old books”.
It is 1759 in East Anglia. A child has been murdered and a young woman has been convicted to hang for the crime. She ‘pleads her belly’ and a jury of matrons must determine if she is truly with child and thus may escape the gallows. Lucy Kirkwood’s powerful play The Welkin, is an historical thriller and a tense courtroom drama, as well as a vivid representation of the real burdens that women carry in a patriarchal world of any age.
The Welkin premiered at the National Theatre in January 2020 before its run was cruelly cut short by the first Covid lockdown. I’m delighted to be joined by the author herself to talk about her rich new play.
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 …