BWW REVIEW: Giving The Audience A Taste Of The Challenge Of Living With Dementia, THE FATHER Is A Heartbreaking Story Of Aging

BWW REVIEW: Giving The Audience A Taste Of The Challenge Of Living With Dementia, THE FATHER Is A Heartbreaking Story Of Aging

Thursday 24th August 2017, 8pm, Wharf 1 Theatre Walsh Bay

Director Damien Ryan takes the audience into one man's world of losing not only his watch but also his mind as he brings Florian Zeller's award-winning play, THE FATHER to the Sydney stage. The French work, translated by Christopher Hampton, is an interesting look at the brain disease that affects many but remains incurable.

The work opens with the elderly Andre (John Bell) believing that the carer his daughter Anne (Anita Hegh) has hired has stolen his watch and he expresses his suspicions when Anne visits. Whilst it is never overtly addressed, Anne knows that Andre is suffering dementia and since she intends to leave Paris to follow a lover to London, she wants to know Andre has someone to care for him. It is from here that the timelines and storylines start to get muddled as the events are presented from Andre's view of the world. Snippets of events play out, replay and are blurred with imagined or unrecognised characters as Andre is losing more than just his trusty timepiece. Through the older man's eyes the audience is made to see the potential for well-meaning efforts to be taken as a selfish grab for inheritance, a desire for independence from the burden of having to look the aging parent or condescension from the well-meaning carer Laura (Faustina Agolley).

BWW REVIEW: Giving The Audience A Taste Of The Challenge Of Living With Dementia, THE FATHER Is A Heartbreaking Story Of Aging
John Bell and Glenn Hazeldine in Sydney Theatre Company's Production of The Father © Philip Erbacher

Designer Alicia Clements has created a large Parisian apartment space where the living area, dining space and corridor library are represented. Wood panels line the walls and the furniture is more a collection of objects gathered over time rather than the contemporary trend of sets of matching lounge chairs. Whilst there is the impression that the frosted glass corridor library has a skylight, the skylight above the dining room is not obvious to anyone seated higher in the audience. The same applies to the dining room wall complete with fireplace at the far end of Wharf 1's rectangular stage which is potentially not visible to approximately one third of the audience.

BWW REVIEW: Giving The Audience A Taste Of The Challenge Of Living With Dementia, THE FATHER Is A Heartbreaking Story Of Aging
John Bell in Sydney Theatre Company's Production of The Father © Philip Erbacher

John Bell is brilliant as the deteriorating Andre. He expresses the older man's confusion, paranoia and fear with a heartbreaking honesty. Through his speech patterns and his physicality, he conveys the challenge of a mind that is no longer piecing facts together properly. By portraying Andre's vulnerability and frustration at the fact that the once smart and intelligent man is losing his mind, Bell ensures that Andre has the audience's sympathy as he finds himself alone, cared for by strangers.

BWW REVIEW: Giving The Audience A Taste Of The Challenge Of Living With Dementia, THE FATHER Is A Heartbreaking Story Of Aging
Anita Hegh and John Bell in Sydney Theatre Company's Production of The Father © Philip Erbacher

Hegh, as daughter Anne, ensures that the audience sees Andre's impression of his daughter's behaviour. She allows the character to be seen to move through moments of care and compassion to more seemingly selfish and uncaring responses to her father. She exhibits the frustration at dealing with a parent who is coming to need the care and attention of a child as the roles gradually reverse as the disease sets in.

BWW REVIEW: Giving The Audience A Taste Of The Challenge Of Living With Dementia, THE FATHER Is A Heartbreaking Story Of Aging
John Bell and Anita Hegh in Sydney Theatre Company's Production of The Father © Philip Erbacher

Whilst it can take a while to realise Andre's situation, when it becomes clear that the audience has been drawn into his mind, the repetition of snippets of what is happening around him, whether they be memories or actually happening, make Anne's final decision to institutionalise him even sadder. It raises the question of whether it is right to pass off the care of a loved one to strangers and not be there for their final moments as she leaves for Paris, visiting less frequently than promised. The cycle of extra characters, whether real or imagined, help highlight Andre's paranoia and fear that he's being talked down to, abused and willed to die so Anne and her partner Pierre can claim his apartment.

BWW REVIEW: Giving The Audience A Taste Of The Challenge Of Living With Dementia, THE FATHER Is A Heartbreaking Story Of Aging
John Bell and Faustina Agolley in Sydney Theatre Company's Production of The Father © Philip Erbacher

The positioning of the work in Paris allows for the lovely apartment setting but for the most part, this work could be set anywhere as dementia doesn't discriminate based on boarders of socio economic advantage. It does however look at a more middle-class view of dealing with the disease with the luxury of being able to afford carers and nursing homes so whilst not addressing the challenge of dealing with it when the family doesn't have the financial capacity, it is appropriate to the Sydney Theatre Company's core demographic.

BWW REVIEW: Giving The Audience A Taste Of The Challenge Of Living With Dementia, THE FATHER Is A Heartbreaking Story Of Aging
Marco Chiappi and Anita Hegh in Sydney Theatre Company's Production of The Father © Philip Erbacher

THE FATHER is an interesting work which explores an all too common disease from a different angle. With an aging population, this work has a relevance and an important message but may prove a trigger for those dealing with the disease on a more personal level with loved ones.

THE FATHER

19th August - 21st October 2017

Wharf 1 Theatre, Walsh Bay

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From This Author Jade Kops

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