A kind of King Lear as French stage hit is revived
Graham Till suspects he will never get the chance to play King Lear on stage. But he will certainly be in similar '“ if still strikingly different territory '“ when he takes to the stage in the title role in The Father, the latest production from Drip Action Theatre Company in Arundel (Victoria Institute, November 14-17, from www.dripaction.com).
Le Père was written by the French playwright Florian Zeller, winning him the 2014 the Molière Award for Best Play. It premiered in September 2012 at the Théâtre Hébertot, Paris, later being made into the film Floride.
The play was translated into English by Christopher Hampton
“It was a big hit in London and won some sort of award on the West End stage,” Graham says. “It was very well thought of, and I had read about it. I didn’t actually see it. But I saw an excerpt from it and I saw a TV documentary on the making of it and how it grabbed people’s imaginations – and it grabbed mine too.
“I thought I am never going to play Lear on the big stage, but this is like a small-time Lear, but different. Lear is irredeemably bleak and ends with the world ending. It is really heavy tragedy, a Shakespearean masterpiece but incredibly depressing, and this piece definitely isn’t it.
“It is about an old man losing his memory and the difficulty in the family dealing with what is happening and how it affects relationships. But the treatment is very light. We know that the old man’s name is Andre and his daughter is Anne. He is confused. Across the course of the play, we gradually come to understand why he is confused and we get inside his head. The cleverness of the play is that he plays with time and reruns scenes from a different perspective, and you realise that the confusion is in his mind. But that makes the whole thing sound heavy – and it is not. It has got some lovely light moments.
“Some of it is witting and some of it is unwitting. The father knows that things are going wrong. He knows that things are falling apart. He has got OCD as well. He is worrying about particular things, where particular things are. And people in that situation are sometimes always making sure that things are in the correct position. He is trying to understand how his life is changing.
“The room in which we are playing it is his flat. Or is it? It might be his daughter’s flat or a room in a nursing home. It is very clever in that we get some unexpected turns. I am a big fan of Pinter, and this play is Pinteresque in a way. You are slightly unnerved in some places; you don’t know what is going to happen and you are not sure what it means and you don’t know where it is going. It has got all those sorts of undertones.
“It is a cast of six. The main protagonist is the father who is on stage for the whole thing, but then there is a substantial part for his daughter, and there are supporting parts for other people who are or may be carers or doctors or visitors, people that he sometimes recognises, sometimes doesn’t.”