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Y Tad review at Pontio, Bangor – ‘an exceptional performance’

Catrin Mara and Dyfan Roberts in Y Tad at Pontio, Bangor. Photo: Warren Orchard Catrin Mara and Dyfan Roberts in Y Tad at Pontio, Bangor. Photo: Warren Orchard
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In this Welsh language translation of Florian Zeller’s award-winning play, La Pere – in English, The Father – the Paris setting has been replaced by the lush valleys of North Wales.

Y Tad evokes the failing faculties of an elderly man as dementia begins to take hold of him.  As his memory worsens, the play, like his life, becomes increasingly disturbing and nightmarish. It’s left to his daughter to make hard choices about her father’s wellbeing.

Of the two Welsh-language productions about dementia currently touring – the other being Wy, Chips a Nain – this is the tougher watch. The matter-of-fact presentation of dementia and decline is sobering and, at times, uncomfortably realistic.

At the heart of Arwel Gruffydd’s production is an exceptional performance from Dyfan Roberts, in a physically demanding and emotionally exhausting role. Catrin Mara also impresses as daughter Ann, caught between her duty to her father and the desire to be free.

Gruffydd uses design to symbolise the loss that comes with dementia. Erin Maddocks’ busy set is completely empty by the end, while the repetition of certain musical cues by sound designer Dan Lawrence echoes the failings and flickerings of memory. Rather than detract from the text, these ambiguities underline the piece’s theatricality and stop it from feeling unrelenting.

Watching Zeller’s play, solidly translated by Geraint Lovgreen, is an emotional experience. The final scene is perhaps its most tragic, and the final blackout comes as welcome relief. Another painful example of art imitating life.

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Welsh language version of the play by Florian Zeller makes for a sobering account of dementia