Assistant Director Heather Maceachern introduces ‘The Father’
Having worked with Wokingham Theatre’s current Artistic Director David Stacey and Claire Lawrence on A Christmas Carol as Assistant Director in 2019, I jumped at the chance to work with David again to bring the tragi-comic mystery of The Father to life this spring.
The Father, or Le Père, in the original French version, is one of a trilogy of plays created by the extraordinary mind of playwright Florian Zeller. You may well have seen the recent screen version starring two powerhouses of British acting talent, Olivia Coleman and Sir Anthony Hopkins. Sir Anthony went on to win a highly deserved Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the Father.
The premise of the play is simple enough at first glance, centred squarely around the somewhat fractured relationship between an ageing father and his pragmatic and sensible daughter. It follows the story of André, a retired engineer who, as the playwright infers (although it is never directly mentioned), is experiencing the early stages of dementia. His eldest daughter, Anne, tries with an increasingly high level of desperation to care for him in her Paris flat. It quickly becomes apparent that nothing is as it seems. Where is André’s younger daughter Elise? Is Anne together with Pierre or Antoine? Does Anne live in London or Paris? The playwright brilliantly makes the reader question the nature of truth as André gradually loses his grip on reality.
Time and Memory
The dual themes of time and memory run throughout the whole piece. This poses several challenges from both a design and performance perspective. The Paris apartment essentially forms an extension of André’s mind. The apartment space subtly changes during the play, as do the characters, leaving André, and the audience, to question what is real and what is actually a manifestation of his temporal dislocation from reality. The set slowly melts away as André’s inner world collapses around him. The only physical anchor to the present is his watch.
Therefore, with the set design, we have worked hard to address the complex technical requirements. The play starts with an entire Paris apartment and ending it with a single white chair. As there are several scene changes, it affords the perfect opportunity to play with the idea of looking inside the mind of André. It led us to wonder if we could recreate some of his most cherished memories? This culminated in the creation of a series of home video style family milestones taking place over forty years. Thanks to the film production expertise of David Hill, the actors did a fantastic job of bringing our imagined memories of André and his family to the fore.
Dealing with dementia
Of course, it goes without saying that any play dealing with dementia is a highly sensitive topic. It has touched the lives of many. The cast and the production team have approached the play with great care and sensitivity. Our excellent cast of six, including Jess Hadleigh as Anne and introducing Clive Chafer as André, has been incredible throughout the rehearsal process. The performance journey works best as a collaborative effort, and it’s been wonderful to observe their enthusiasm and dedication to lifting the characters off the page and bringing them to life on stage.
The Father opens on the 28th of April and runs until the 7th of May. We look forward to seeing you in the audience and welcome your thoughts on the production after the show.