The Father – Footnotes
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.
The changing set
We talked during the episode about the deliberate confusion that the playwright creates as to the specific identity of the setting that the action takes place in. The stage direction that precedes the first scene in the published text of the play reads simply “Andre’s flat“. It seems clear from the dialogue that unfolds that Andre’s daughter Anne is indeed visiting Andre in his flat during this opening scene. So far so good. The printed stage direction at the top of the second scene says “Same room”. However, during the course of the scene the man playing Anne’s husband Pierre tells Andre that this is their flat not his, as he believes. So where are we? As simultaneously a further diversion, and perhaps a clue to what is happening onstage, the direction for scene three advises: “Simultaneously the same room and a different room. Some furniture has disappeared; as the scenes proceed, the set sheds certain elements, until it becomes and empty, neutral space.” The clue is also a challenge to the set designer to create a room that could at a glance be both the original room and a different one. The set that retains a continuity while at the same time also changes defies specific identification, and results in our vicariously experiencing the same confusion about the surroundings as Andre does. He is not certain about where he is, and nor are we.
Andre is repeatedly preoccupied during the play by the whereabouts of his wrist watch. As Christopher pointed out during our conversation, it is not uncommon for people suffering from dementia to lose things, including by putting them away in a specific place and then forgetting their having done so. We all do this of course, but it becomes more of a problem with the advanced loss of short term memory. For Andre the special place for his watch is a particular kitchen cupboard, and when Anne finds it there for him, he is offended that she knows about his hiding place. Her knowing something so personal feels like an invasion of his privacy, and his anger in response is partly an expression of his frustration and fear at his own frailties. As James Joyce said, “all anger is anger with yourself.”
His suspicion that the carer Isabelle, and then his son-in-law Pierre, have stolen his watch, also reflects his general unease. It would certainly be natural to be wary of people that you did not recognise who appear in your flat and behave in such a strangely familiar way.
Andre’s disproportionate preoccupation with his watch is not only an indication of the narrowing of the focus of his mind, but also an emotional symbol of his search for order. He may realise that he needs the watch to identify what time in the day it is, something he is not able to do with confidence now without it. His wearing it may also represent a simple need to reclaim his own identity. As I suggested in the podcast, he may not feel properly dressed without it. A potent symbol.
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 …