Kiln Theatre Spring 2019; Duke Of York's Theatre Autumn 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divorced parents, is depressed, sullen, withdrawn, secretive,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.
Except that 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
interestingly original 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.
But Zeller keeps us at
emotional arm's length from all this, letting us observe without really
entering the world of pain he presents.
In the 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
Except for one brief scene
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
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.
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Review - The Son - Kiln Theatre 2019