The Father, currently running at Trafalgar Studios, is a late nineteenth century play by Swedish playwright August Strindberg retold by Laurie Slade, and directed by Abbey Wright, writes After Nyne’s Dominic Stevenson.
The play is a story of obsession, sadness and jealousy which is bred from a life that has little love in it. It follows the slow descent into madness of scientist and veteran soldier Captain Adolph as he begins to question the paternity of his only child, Bertha, in the aftermath of a battle between the Captain and his wife Laura about Bertha’s future.
From the off the play is fierce, and the small Studio 2 of the Trafalgar only helps to amplify the cries of the tortured souls before you.
The initial conflict, regarding the future of Bertha, is supposed to be key to the play. The atheist Captain wants Bertha to move out of home to become a teacher, and her religious mother Laura wants her to stay at home. But the challenges faced by conflicting ideologies could have played a much bigger role in the story. I felt that the religious tensions were glossed over so that the play could quickly move on to the more interesting second half of the play.
The Captain is pitched as a forward thinker, someone who wants a modern life for his daughter, one that doesn’t mean relying on a man for support. This doesn’t translate to the treatment of his wife though, and it quickly becomes apparent that he sees her as only a hindrance to his endeavours.
Emily Dobbs, who plays Laura, puts in a fine supporting performance of Alex Ferns as the Captain. She oozes the kind of sensuality that you know would have softened the heart of the young Captain, and she is majestic while doing her utmost to compete with each of Ferns manic bellows as they bounce off the walls.
The production is constantly thrilling and high tempo with the supporting cast of Barnaby Sax as the dashing doctor who seems to so easily to fall for the charms of Laura in absence of his deceased wife. Thomas Coombes plays Nojd, a young soldier who is a constant by the Captain’s side, Robert Wilfort plays the Pastor, who is Laura’s brother, and June Watson is the ever loyal Nurse of first the Captain, and then young Bertha, who is played masterfully by Millie Thew in her London stage debut.
The playwright is loyal to Strindberg’s original, and superbly demonstrates the emotional and societal castration that women in the nineteenth century had to live with. As Laura drives the Captain further into madness, by teasing him with the prospect that Bertha isn’t actually his, you see how she felt that the only option to try and regain her rights was not to compromise with someone who wouldn’t hear her voice, but rather to destroy the person withholding those rights.
As always Trafalgar Studios has put on a show of quality, a challenging piece of theatre which is intimate and at times antagonistic. You don’t know who you’re willing for at times and it makes you uncomfortable. While you know the Captain is brutal and archaic, you feel loathed to accept that the only way that this can happen is his total downfall.
Jagged Fence Productions presents
By August Strindberg, in a version by Laurie Slade
Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY
Wed 11 March – 11 April 2015
Press Night: Mon 16 March 2015, 7pm
Performances: Monday – Saturday, 7.45pm
Thursday & Saturday, 3.00pm
Ticket prices: £30, £25 and £17.50
Concessions (students and unemployed): Receive a Band B ticket for £15
Groups (10+) bookings: Receive a £1 discount off each ticket when you make a group booking of 10 tickets or more.
Schools (10+) bookings: £15 tickets for school groups of 10+ with one free teacher comp per 10 tickets purchased
Access bookings: Discounts available for all disabled theatregoers and one companion. Access bookings should be made via the box office on 0844 264 2140.
An Access rate is available for wheelchair users and Patrons who have specific access requirements.
For further queries and group bookings please contact a member of the ATG Tickets Access Team on 0844 871 767. All concessions are subject to availability and proof of eligibility must be presented when booking and collecting tickets
(Image Credit: Simon Annand)