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The Father review at Duke of York’s Theatre, London – ‘extremely moving’

Kenneth Cranham and Amanda Drew in the Father at Duke of York's Theatre, London. Photo: Mark Douet Kenneth Cranham and Amanda Drew in the Father at Duke of York's Theatre, London. Photo: Mark Douet

Florian Zeller’s The Father – first produced in Britain at Bath’s Ustinov Studio and London’s Tricycle Theatre before transferring to Wyndham’s – has now returned to the West End for a second run ahead of a new national tour. It brings with it with no fewer than 10 five star reviews, which itself creates a critical dilemma: do I go with the flow or the flaws?

The play is a remarkably structured study of the drift towards dementia as faced by an elderly man. It is painful to observe as he is cast adrift from the all the certainties of his life: where has he left his watch? Who is this man claiming to be his son-in-law? Who is this woman saying she is his daughter? But Zeller’s play, and James Macdonald’s fluent and unnerving production, also plays with our own certainties about what we might be watching, with different actors playing the people in the man’s life and giving him conflicting information.

One version of reality sees his surviving adult daughter moving from Paris to live with her new partner in London, while in another she is still married. Miriam Buether’s set also keeps getting rearranged, until it is just a bare white room – a living room or a hospital ward?

The production is galvanised by a performance of astonishing depth and feeling from Kenneth Cranham as the confused and increasingly child-like Andre, with the newly cast Amanda Drew bringing a haunting sense of frustration and helplessness to the role of his daughter. She follows in the footsteps of Lia Williams and Claire Skinner in the role, a trio of three of our finest actresses, each making the role their own. Drew may be slightly younger, but she has a husky-voiced maturity that is perfect for the part.

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Verdict
Amanda Drew joins the cast of Florian Zeller's studied but extremely moving play
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