‘Triumphant revival’The Times
‘An electric clash of the Titans’The Stage
‘Alex Ferns delivers a show stopping performance… all hail Laurie Slade’s modern adaptation’Official Theatre
‘Abbey Wright’s smart, swift and vigorous production’Time Out Recommended
A bold re-working of August Strindberg’s The Father at the Trafalgar Studios wins critical acclaim
An uneasy stand-off exists between the Captain and his wife Laura. But a disagreement over their daughter Bertha triggers an all-out war. Laura will stop at nothing to gain control of her daughter’s future. When she suggests to the Captain that he may not actually be the girl’s father, she sets a chain of events in motion that cannot be stopped.
In a thrilling new production, this bold re-working of Strindberg’s masterpiece comes to Trafalgar Studio 2 for a strictly limited run. Starring Alex Ferns (Eastenders, Joyeux Noel, Making Waves) and June Watson, with direction from rising star Abbey Wright, and text from Laurie Slade (first performed at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry).
It is a battle of the minds, but is it a battle either can win?
By Honour Bayes
Strindberg’s The Father could easily be seen as a melodramatic and misogynistic rant by an increasingly irate lunatic. But Laurie Slade’s incisive and intuitive update reveals it as a complex study of psychological warfare.
In Slade’s dynamic script, both the Captain and his wife Laura are trapped within the confines of their rigid, patriarchal society. In Abbey Wright’s taut production, they prowl around one another like animals in a cage, taking swipes until one finally catches the jugular of the other.
It’s an electric clash of the titans, made even more compelling with a sucker punch central performance from EastEnders baddie Alex Ferns. Ferns is all nervous energy at first, like a prizefighter minutes before the first-round bell. But as he ascends into madness he becomes a man possessed, flying between explosive brawn and angelic stillness. Emily Dobbs as his sleek, sensual wife is an apex predator, cold and terrifying but also human and soft.
Slade highlights that everyone is culpable in this tragedy, with the betrayal from the Captain’s nurse – a moving performance from June Watson – feeling particularly acute. No one wanted it to end this way, but everyone ends up with blood on their hands.
By Theo Bosanquet
If you're looking for a positive picture of relationships, don't turn to Strindberg. From the pen of the dramatist behind Dance of Death and Miss Julie comes this early work, The Father, centering on a battle of wills between a retired army Captain and his wife over the future of their daughter.
It's deeply ugly, from the word go. The Captain, presciently named Adolph, wants his teenaged daughter Bertha to move into town and study teaching, whereas his younger wife Laura wants her to stay closer to home.
This being patriarchal 19th-century Sweden, the Captain assumes his will is final, but he hasn't counted on the Machiavellian manoeuvrings of his wife, who cunningly plants a seed of doubt over his status as Bertha's father. This, she calculates correctly, is enough to tip an already simmering personality to boiling point.
The play, running here at 100 minutes straight through, hurtles through the gears and, like much of Strindberg, puts an unflinching microscope (or should that be spectroscope?) on turn of the century gender politics. It successfully reveals the strain of misogyny underlying the Captain's neuroses – and those of wider society – while creating a richly complex female protagonist in Laura.
Laurie Slade's version speaks clearly to a contemporary audience, and Abbey Wright ensures the action rarely loses tension. As the Captain, Alex Ferns gives a belting – in all senses – performance, though Emily Dobbs more than holds her own as Laura. There's solid support too from Barnaby Sax's level-headed local doctor and June Watson's fretting, maternal nurse.
It's not the most balanced of productions, with the Captain often threatening to blast the other characters off stage in one guttural roar after another. But the fault for this perhaps lies with Strindberg, who in creating this unholy duo pitted a brass band against a violin.
As I was nibbling my cornflakes this morning, I happened to glance over good old Jeremy Kyle. What was today’s hard hitting social issue scrolling across the bottom of the screen? Ah “has my cheating wife tricked me into raising other men’s children?” – How very apt!
Apparently the deceit of womankind is a far reaching and timeless issue; an issue that is the focus of August Strindberg’s 1887 play The Father. Somewhat akin to the young lady in Jeremy Kyle, in Strindberg’s text a devious wife plants the seeds of doubt in her husband’s mind as to the paternity of her child following a disagreement about their daughter’s upbringing. What a cow.
Strindberg’s original is a somewhat dense three act-er, so all hail Laurie Slade’s modern adaptation that packs as much punch in 100 (albeit somewhat intense) minutes.
Slade has played with the era somewhat, shifting it from the late 19th century to what looks and feels like the 1940’s; thus setting the show in perhaps a more relatable past. I have to say the decision made for delightful viewing; how lovely were the costumes! Emily Dobbs looked every bit the temptress as the malicious wife Laura, flashing her stockings to gain the sexual affection of her conflicted “big baby” husband.
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