BWW Review: FATHER'S SON, The Vaults
The bond between father and son can be incredibly strong but also incredibly fraught. Fathers might expect their sons to follow suit in terms of interests and ideas and sons perhaps feel pressured into living up to certain expectations that are thrust upon them. Lack of communication and male pride often interfere with being open and honest with one another and toxic behaviours can trickle down from one generation to the next.
Writer James Morton explores this subject matter in his debut play premiering at The Vaults Festival. Casting a light on three generations, Father's Son examines how unresolved trauma and poor mental health ripple through a working class family in Stoke. Developed through The National Theatre's Toolkit programme and Soho Writers' Lab, the play was shortlisted for the Tony Craze Award in 2018.
In the varied and vibrant theatre landscape of London, new writing centred on working class people, written by working class people, is still quite rare. Here we are left in no doubt of the authenticity behind the characters voices as well as the urgent restlessness of Morton and the ideas he seeks to convey.
There is little in the way of theatrics here. The black stage area houses only a couple of boxes, which serve as seats, and other than a few fleeting moments of violence, convincingly depicted through Mark Conway's movement direction, there isn't much visual action. Instead the focus is on the dialogue and thanks to the compelling work of the actors, we find ourselves immersed in both deep engagement and thought.
Kenny Fullwood plays three different sons opposite Mark Newsome as three fathers, two of which are adult versions of Fullwood's characters. It's a clever device that successfully emphasises both generational divides as well as the idea that trauma can be inherited from father to son.
The actors bounce off one another well. Fullwood expertly conveys boyish awkwardness as he paces up and down, fidgets and nervously plays with his hands. Newsome uses his voice to evoke status, transitioning from no nonsense authoritarian in the opening scenes to a remorseful and lonely man begging for his estranged son to call him dad in the closing moments.
It's interesting that a coat stand appears in the opening scene, perhaps implying that we all put on a costume when we leave the house to face the world each day, only to remove it and become our true selves again once safely back indoors. Much of the three separate conversations feel more like interrogations with secrets being revealed and lies exposed. Throughout, though, there is a sense of fragility behind the facades these men hide behind.
Sexuality and violence dominate in terms of story but there is an array of important and timely themes examined here. The beauty is that the play tackles these subjects in such a realistic and minimalist way, affording us time to process and reflect on its ideas.
This is a somewhat bleak hour but there are several moments of character-driven humour to add a little light to the shade. The momentum dips a little at times but is mostly sustained by the strength of both the acting and writing. At just sixty minutes, this understated piece packs a punch but could arguably benefit from being expanded. In some ways it feels like a blueprint for a bigger play, yet in others its compact, pared down intimacy is perhaps what makes it so transfixing.
Photo credit: Ali Wright