The Father

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5-15 June 2019 / 
Napier Little Theatre / 
By Jess Soutar Barron

Fifteen scenes in a disorientated timeline tell the story of memory loss and a slowly diminishing life. By cutting up linear narrative into a series of memories, then stringing them together in a non-linear way with counterpoints, repetitions, gaps and alternative realities the audience becomes complicit in this act of forgetting, half-remembering, re-remembering, sometimes falsely. More than just witness, at times audience literally loses the plot with the characters in this beautiful, tragic immersive piece.

This play questions the way memory plays tricks, but also the guilt, threats, trust and tension that pulls family members towards and away from each other, especially at times of confusion, chaos, crisis.

Director Trevor Rose has done an excellent job giving actors shapes and blocking that holds a strength and power and roots the piece in a firm foundation while the narrative meanders through space, playing games with audience and actors alike.

There are some subtle, thoughtfully delivered mannerisms that add much to the script, which is itself Pinter-esk in its simplicity. Silence is used to add substance to the lines between. It helps too with this overarching sense of awkward tension.

Rob Dallas, in the title role, is stunning. He leads the work from the middle, never outshining nor overshadowing, but standing strong and letting the ensemble move around him. He embodies the role so well that emotion in the audience is palpable in response to the reality rendered by him.

Alongside Dallas as his daughter Anne, Kelie Jensen has a precision in her movements and a crisp delivery of dialogue – “Yes. Yes. Yes.” (overstating agreement in an attempt to soften the atmosphere) – that gives a tone of nervous claustrophobia, showing rather than saying how anxious the situation between the leads is becoming.

As the father’s world diminishes, so too does his surroundings as the set is stripped away. There are some smooth and effortless moments in this series of scene changes, some where the change is so understated it’s imperceptible, but there are some jars as an over-abundance of stage-hands struggles in the tight space.

Throughout, there is a lack of warmth between characters that reinforces the siloed feeling of loss and loneliness even when in company. Rare moments of physical contact are awkward and stiff. The resolution though is satisfying when, at the very end, love is injected into the piece with such tenderness that hearts ache, tears roll.

Minimalist theatre, tight script, disciplined delivery… a gem.

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