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The Father

by Florian Zeller

Hampton Hill Theatre - Coward Studio
TUE 16 - SAT 20 JANUARY 2024

From our director...

Florian Zeller, born June 28th 1979, is a French Novelist, playwright and film director. He won the Prix Interallié for his 2004 novel ‘The Fascination Of Evil.’ His plays include ‘The Height Of The Storm’ , ‘The Mother’, ‘The Son’ and ‘The Truth’.

‘The Father’ in its original French production premiered at the Theatre Hebertot, Paris on 30th September 2012, taking the Molière award for best play of the year.

The English translation by Christopher Hampton, starring Kenneth Cranham first played at the Ustinov studio, Theatre Royal Bath in October 2014, then transferred to the Tricycle Theatre, London in 2015. Revived again in 2016 in the West End at the Wyndhams, then the Duke of York’s Theatre. Zeller wrote and directed the 2020 film ‘The Father’, based on his own play. Starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman with Anthony Hopkins taking the Academy award for best actor.


Alzheimer’s is a neurological disease that usually starts slowly and progressively worsens attacking the physical brain. It mostly affects the over 70s'. Whilst each case is unique to the individual; as it advances, symptoms include disorientation, loss of memory, hallucinations, language problems and personality changes. It may manifest no physical deterioration until later in the disease. There is no known cure. As more of us are living longer it is becoming more common, affecting some 900,000 in the UK alone.

Increasingly literature and drama attempt to tackle the subject. This demands a strong sense of responsibility for writers, directors and actors to not merely become voyeurs. The arts have always sought to allow us into the minds of others. However, this condition make understanding terrifyingly impenetrable. If our minds are the seat of our identity, this illness impacts our thinking about identity itself. If we are not ‘ourselves’ then what are we? It appears a particularly cruel violation. Pushing the limits of love and patience of the human we know.

‘The Father’ is subtitled ‘a tragic farce’. The humour is bleak but still present. We see all events from the perspective of André, an 80-year -old man. We share his uncertainty of the shifting events in the play. To André, everything has become absolutely ludicrous. The miscommunication and absurdity he experiences are reminiscent of farce. We have no reliable narrator, no coherent or chronological progression of events. Does the action take place in André’s flat or at his daughter Anne’s home? Why is all the furniture disappearing? Is Anne leaving to live in London or staying with him? Where is his other beloved daughter Elise? Time is no longer a stable reality. Scenes are replayed in alternative settings by different actors playing the same character. We too, are at a loss as to what to believe.


André- Nigel Andrews

Anne- Denise Rocard

Pierre- Oliver Tims

Laura- Helen Geldert

The Man- John Wilkinson

The Woman- Danielle Thompson


Director- Fiona Smith

Lighting & Design - Patrick Troughton

Stage Manager - Luke Daxon


The theatre, like the Old West in the Coen Brothers/ Cormac McCarthy movie, is ‘no country for old
men.’ With a few storming exceptions like King Lear, stage history has favoured verbal-dramatic
shootouts between the young or showdowns between the robustly middle-aged.

For a 76-year-old like me ‘old’ roles, or good ones, are as rare as gold dust. Which makes Florian
Zeller’s The Father a nearly unbelievable gift. Not just for its lead role of a faltering patriarch prone
to forget where he is, whom he’s living with – is this young woman in his home a daughter, a carer, a
friend….? – and even in a sense who he is. The play is also a brilliantly unsettling comedy-tragedy
about the insecure footholds we all have in life; even before dementia may strike or threaten.

On a bad day any of us can wonder: who are these people in our everyday lives? Friendships and
relationships change – subtly or dramatically, slowly or suddenly. So do feelings about those we
know more transactionally. Now we trust that doctor, dentist, carer or counsellor, now we don’t.
Past and present, too, can intersect at a moment’s notice. Hands up, all those who’ve found
themselves forgetfully calling a new partner by an old partner’s name?

Clarity and definition become ever more precious with advancing age. As the years accumulate, so
does the information we must each retain: more facts, more people, more children, more children-
in-law, more red tape, more paperwork….. And more divorced, dying or otherwise distressed and
distressing friends and kinsfolk - a sadness every older person must reckon with and be reconciled

Our brains, only so large to start with, don’t get larger to contain this.

The Father turns these themes into a maze of funny-yet-terrible uncertainty. You can’t tell, and
the eponymous father certainly can’t, who will enter the stage next. Is it someone he knows?
Someone he thought he knew? Someone he knows masquerading, seemingly, as someone he
doesn’t, or vice versa?

Some have called the play “Pintereseque.” But even Pinter held back from shuffling and re-shuffling
an entire deck of characters until they, and we the audience, are all playing a kind of blind poker.

What a gift – again – for an older actor. So little security. And yet so much excitement in unlocking
this chaotic treasure house of an old man’s mind. It’s a mind that has lost nothing in quantity of
memories and thoughts and insights. All he’s lost is the map to this Aladdin’s cave, and with it the
understanding of where everything is, what everything is - and why everything is.

The Cast In Rehearsal...

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