Review: Fatherland, Lyric Hammersmith

A mind-reading machine.

“Bridging the communication gap” between fathers and sons, as Scott Graham (Declan Bennett) explains, is the starting point and the drive behind this ambitious and daring production. Fatherland is about the relationships in a clash of generations. It challenges the role of participants and creators in its creative process and delivery, and merges words, movement and song in a kaleidoscope of intimacy and isolation, resentment and forgiveness, and love and loss.

But foremost, Fatherland offers the opportunity for fathers and sons to speak about the unsaid: the truth about the men they are today, they have been and would like to become. It is a revelation of their roots and expectations and about the impact of these relationships on their pathways and present story.

Fatherland is a “multitude of voices” that is created for Frantic Assembly by its co-founder and director Scott Graham, the composer Karl Hyde and the playwright Simon Stephens. The artistic trio conducts interviews in their hometowns – Corby, Stockport and Kidderminster – with their families and friends, and acquaintances and strangers about having and being a father then and now as well as the in-betweenness of becoming a father.

Craig (Tachia Newall), father of two daughters, has never met his father and was raised by his granddad. Steve (James Doherty) is a single dad of three kids. Daniel – brilliantly embodied by David Judge – lost the connection to his father over his suffering of mental illness. The fireman Mel (Michael Begley) is confronted by a disconnected story of a father and his sons ending in a tragedy. Even the creators of the show are immersed into the storm of emotions and memories of lost fathers and their overshadowing presences. Stephens – who is played by Nyasha Hatendi – reveals the story of his alcoholic father which he channels within the stories he tells. While Hyde (Mark Arends) is confronted by his father’s dark childhood (Neil McCaul) but underlying, disarming love for him.

The stories of the men are presented in monologues to the audience and dialogues to each other. The frame of the interviews remains as the guiding thread throughout the show. These moments of storytelling merge with movement sequences and songs delivered by the 13-strong ensemble to revive the memories and thoughts on stage. Rapid scene transitions allow flowing dialogues to occur between the single stories in order to find and reveal similarities in the stories of strangers.

The technique of verbatim theatre gives a platform to 12 voices – 12 interviewees – to be heard including the perspectives of the artistic trio themselves and a sceptical participator – Luke (Craig Stein) – who challenges the three interviewers as interviewee to shift roles in the theatre-making process. Whether Luke is a staged conscience or a real interviewee that is used to reveal the backstory, stays the secret of the creative process to thematise not only the outcome and content of the interviews of fathers and sons, but to also call to the ethics of verbatim theatre and the role of the creators who edit and narrate the stories in a finalised show about real people.

What makes a story worth to tell? What happens to the original story when it is edited? Does that not falsify the content and the person behind it? Is it still truthful? Has it ever been? What are you looking for by creating Fatherland?

The process of making Fatherland as well as the content of the interviews is thematised on stage and combined in a skilful, touching and truthful image of fatherhood. The audience is immersed in the genuine moments of lifting and grounding of words by a well-choreographed and connected ensemble (choreography by Eddie Kay). The songs and movement reveal vulnerability and loneliness, but also transfer the stage in a ritual of togetherness and the strength of connectedness found in the shared stories. The climax marks the occupation of stage and auditorium of the choir of men to invite the audience into the circle of empowerment – ‘A lot I’d like to know’ – to inspire long due conversations that should not remain only between fathers and sons.

Fatherland is a rollercoaster-ride of a journey through unsaid words: confessions, confrontations and calls for forgiveness. The “collage of words, music and movements” is fragmented in its pieces, but comes together as a whole through the talented and skilful guidance and delivery by its makers and presenters. The self-reference of being a show is a clever construction and essential part of its authenticity and relevance. This masterpiece of storytelling will stay with you even after you leave the theatre space, walk down the stairs of the Lyric and back into the everyday.

Fatherland is playing at the Lyric Hammersmith until 23 June

Photo: Tristram Kenton 

Lara Domke

Lara Domke

Lara is an emerging theatre-maker especially interested in the mind and the gap between the body. Therefore, she writes and performs (self-)consciously. She is about to finish her BA Performance studies at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in 2018. Crossing the borders to go home to Germany and on holiday, she also loves travelling from the real world.