“I feel as if I’m losing all of my leaves… I don’t understand what’s happening any more”.
The Tricycle Theatre is a converted music and dance hall, with a big cinema and theatre inside, as well as many rehearsal spaces too. It looks quite small from the outside, but once inside it has a very well-presented interior. Inside is a 235-seated theatre lined with scaffolded seating, which seems quite a strange juxtaposition to the neat set. The theatre claims that “the Tricycle Theatre views the world through a variety of lenses, bringing unheard voices into the mainstream”, which is incredibly accurate with regard to this piece. The first thing we are presented with is what appears to be a very big, very neat drawing room, filled with well-organised furniture. The stage has a border lined with lights, much like a picture frame. This is a very clever decision, as it immediately establishes that we will be seeing the play as if we are following the story through a window in André’s mind.
We follow the story of André (Kenneth Cranham), as his mind, memory and world around him deteriorate due to suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Between each scene, a classical piano piece is played, each time more dulled with skips, overlaps and muted drones than the last, which is a very effective way to enhance the escape of André’s well state of mind. The story becomes confusing to follow from an audience perspective, which is actually the desired effect of the piece, as this is what André is experiencing from the start. Examples of this are actors interchanging as characters, which is to show André’s confusion with identification, and how his past memories that we have not seen have drifted into his regressing mind. Saying this, André does not lose his sense of humour throughout the piece, which makes Cranham’s beautiful performance so heart-warming and heart-breaking at the same time. His fluidity with the text and his truthful behaviour really impacts the other characters and the audience, raising awareness of how real the disease of Alzheimer’s actually is. The confusion, frustration and pain of losing himself is shown in every bone of his body, and it is a truly breath-taking performance. Equally, Claire Skinner’s performance as Anne is completely inspiring. She demonstrates the vast range of emotions that I would imagine to be felt by a family member in her position perfectly, by battling with herself in terms of the sadness and guilt she has for her father, but also the need to feel happy within her own life. Although André’s mind is disjointed, we really empathise for Anne and her struggles.
I thoroughly enjoyed the performances by both Colin Tierney and Jim Sturgeon. The way Anne’s husband delivers his lines in a calm and collected way when he is mentally abusing André is unsettling, but due to the fact that André replaces the husband in his mind from time to time, it makes perfect sense – a very well-made and effective decision. It also shows how Anne has a life outside of looking after her father, and that she could have had happiness if it weren’t for what unfortunately becomes a burden on her life, although she hates to admit it.
The direction of the piece is beautiful. Halfway through, I began to realise that pieces of set were being subtly taken from the stage, until we are left only with a bed in the care home where André really resides. We could see the objects as real as he could, which makes accepting that it was an illusion of the mind incredibly agonising. The scenes overlap, and we see some repetition; this begins to make more sense the further we follow the story, adding to the confusion and irritation that André experiences.
I found this piece practically faultless. It is a beautiful and moving piece of theatre and an absolute must see – but don’t forget to pack your tissues.
The Father is playing the Tricycle Theatre until 13 June. For more information and tickets, see the Tricycle Theatre website. Photo by Simon Annand.