On Friday, the 7 July, I took my mother to see “the Father” at the Harrogate Theatre, as it arrives in the North for the first time. Written by Florian Zeller, this black comedy starring Kenneth Alan Taylor’s moving performance as Andre, Colin Connor as Man, John Elkington as Pierre, Helen Kay as Woman, Jo Mousley as Laura and Kerry Peers as Anne. The cast portrayed a full range of archetypal behaviours shown towards the elderly. Throughout the play Andre (the Father) was both a charming and loveable character, who the audience empathised with, I for one becoming lost in his sensory struggle.
The play compares the consciousness of later adulthood to going through a second childhood. The early days, much like the later ones, it would seem, are a place where you can slip away for months, where time and faces mix and merge making it hard to keep a grip on reality. The play made me aware of the difficult balance between talking down to someone and treating them with the understanding, patience and respect they deserve.
Maybe in the past many of us have at times lost patience with our family. Maybe we are guilting of assuming the way they act is “put on”, they “do it on purpose”, to get “attention” and perhaps this is why the play did not fail to resonate with audiences in New York, Paris and London, winning the prestigious Moliere award as well as being a hit on Broadway. And tonight, in Harrogate, Kenneth Alan Taylor’s Andre showed the other side of dementia, the side that many of us, thankfully, have not experienced in our lifetime. Through Andre’s story of dementia, the audience get a chance to see his side, they get lost with him. This is all done with humour and sensitivity.
The costume design, the music, reflected the timelessness of the play itself, which is set in a period that feels hard to define. Only small, but tasteful details, like Ann’s mobile phone, bring this story back down to the 21st century. At points during the play role reversal, muddled sequences, repetition and disorientation were employed to convey the experience of dementia. The passing of time was marked by black outs and the moving of the furniture, which gave way to much bewilderment from the Father, but did quite amuse the audience.
The play attracted a senior audience of 30+ years my age. I was very interested to see the complex change in family dynamics, which run throughout the story of the Father. I, a young person having observed changes in friends who are close to a grandparent or elderly relative living with old age, memory loss or dementia, could still relate in some way to this experience. As the play draws to its end, the importance of showing gentleness and kindness becomes clear, towards all the people suffering in such situations, yourself included. Let yourself off the hook! That too, dignity for all should not be forgotten. This message I shall be taking away with me.
The lights go out for the last time. The cast take a bow. The audience applaud as the curtains close, but this is no ordinary play. I am reminded of staying behind with my gran to watch the credits to the Lady in the Van by Adam Bennett in 2015, which was originally a play that, like the Father, was nominated for the Olivier Award. I can tell, even in this moment as I leave the theatre, this play will stay with me for a very long time. Perhaps it will never leave, for as long as I remember it.