Criterion Theatre, Coventry until March 24
Reviewer: Peter McGarry
Life for this elderly titular figure is a constant nightmare of confusion.
He is surrounded by walls that are forever closing in, people with changing faces, sounds and images that make no sense. A virtual reality of the most terrifying proportions.
It is a play about dementia – or perhaps some other form of Alzheimer’s. No one really knows. But the given facts of a domestic drama are starkly presented in a production that pulls no punches and seeks no compromise.
At the centre of it all is a towering performance by Keith Railton as Andre, living a shadowy existence with a daughter he frequently berates while bemoaning the absence of another daughter and desperately trying to pinpoint what is real in the fog-bound chaos of his mind.
Florian Zeller’s award-winning French drama, with nothing lost in a fine translation by Christopher Hampton, gives us a man of many moods. He charms, he cajoles, he theatens, he rages. And in the play’s most agonising scene, he falls back into a sobbing childhood, all amazingly illuminated in Railton’s heart-felt portrayal.
The whole is shaped and magnified by John Ruscoe’s unflinching direction which heightens the ongoing sense of paranoia with contrasting light and shade and claustrophobic images of room-to-room internment.
An overall tight rein ensures that despite the commanding nature of the central character, it emerges as a rock-solid team effort, with
finely committed performances by the rest of the cast, notably Cathryn Bowler’s verbally-savaged daughter who refuses to wilt under her father’s contemptuous tongue.
It’s a harrowing experience indeed but through the skill of approach by everyone involved, there are flashes of pungent humour to ease the demanding passage of the piece.
Make no mistake, though. This is highly sensitive material and while on the one hand it can be seen as upsetting, it can also shed some preliminary light on the twisting turns of an addled mind.
Bravo for a local theatre company ready to state the case so emphatically.