Kiln Theatre Spring 2019
The Son is a play about
people in deep emotional and psychological pain. But it is so cool
and distant in its presentation that you may have difficulty caring.
Nicolas, the teenage son
of divorced parents, is depressed, sullen,
withdrawn, secretive, self-destructive, violent, bratty and
manipulative, all without the ability to explain himself, even to
himself. In short, a typical teenager on a bad day.
Nicolas really is clinically depressed and suicidal, mentally ill in
a way that his parents and stepmother are ill-equipped to recognise,
much less help him with.
And here is the one
touch in Florian Zeller's play – it is not about Nicolas. His focus
is on how this frightening enigma in their midst affects the others.
Nicolas is not just a
worry and irritation, the play says. He carries
a seed of unrest that affects everyone else. Beginning with blaming
each other and progressing to squabbling over other issues and then
to questioning their own values and identities, the adults find their
lives crumbling almost as quickly and frighteningly as his.
Zeller keeps us at emotional arm's length from all this, letting us
observe without really entering the world of pain he presents.
three other plays (The Father, The Mother, The Height Of The Storm)
that have made London something of a Zeller festival in recent years,
the playwright made very effective use of expressionism, presenting a
character's impressions of reality with the same solidness as the
actual truth, and making us sort them out, so that we experienced
what life was like for the person onstage.
Except for one brief
Zeller avoids that device here, but he offers no alternative way of
drawing us into the story or the characters. The Son is just too
removed and clinically objective to become emotionally real to us.
The translation from the
French by Christopher Hampton (Zeller's
usual translator and, of course, a skilled playwright himself) is as
smooth and playable as you could ask for. But neither he nor director
Michael Longhurst can bring the play fully alive.
The cast – Amanda Abbington (mother), John Light (father), Laurie Kynaston (son) and the rest – all do all they can with what is given them, and all look hobbled and frustrated by not being able to bring us any further into their characters.
Receive alerts every time we post a new review
Review - The Son - Kiln Theatre 2019