Duke of York’s Theatre (venue)
05 September 2019 (released)
05 September 2019
A suicidal teenager is every parent’s nightmare and the subject of Florian Zeller’s play, ‘The Son’, the third in a trilogy translated by Christopher Hampton but the first to transfer from The Kiln Theatre to the West End. ‘The Father’ focussed on dementia and ‘The Mother’ (played by Gina McKee) on psychosis. Now ‘The Son’, apparently the most auto-biographical of the three examines an unremarkable family break-up with a sweet and talented but severely depressed teenager lost in the middle. The timing is certainly right for a play about young people’s mental health and Zeller makes no attempt to simplify a domestic crisis.
When the play opens Anne is desperately worried about Nicolas having discovered that he hadn’t been to school for three months, so they agree that he should to move into his father’s home where he lives with his girlfriend Sofia and their new baby. But Nicolas feels like an intruder in this ‘new family’ and after a honeymoon period when all seems well, his father’s frustration at not being able to help him soon turns to rage. When the teenager’s spiral of depression begins to deepen, his parents ignore professional advice with devestating consequences.
When does ‘normal’ teenage exhaustion and withdrawal become pathological? To what extend can parent’s behaviour be blamed? How to respond to the rage that flashes out of despair? ‘I can’t manage living and it’s your fault!’ cries Nicolas played by Laurie Kynaston, the teenage son of divorcees’ Anne and Pierre played with taught conviction by Amanda Abbingdon and John Light.
Set in the home of an affluent family in Paris, Christopher Hampton’s translation from the original French is clean and almost unspecific – it could be any well off urban family in the last thirty years. Although the costume and design is broadly contemporary, there isn’t enough technology to be completely modern and there’s nothing noticeably French. Whilst it’s certainly not an abstract play, Michael Longhurst’s direction and Lizzie Clachan’s elegant design slides between naturalistic and symbolic. The whitewashed apartment with a sliding door that reveals a chandeliered reception room with piano easily transforms into the hospital and the walls are a blank slate for Nicolas’ desparate scribbles.
One scene glides into to the next with the character’s, like ghosts inhabiting the minds of the characters before they become ‘real’. By the final act, this confusion between the real and the imagined is fully expressed, bringing to life the intense experience of loss. There’s no doubt that ‘The Son’ is a play that will resonate with many and with crisp direction from Michael Longhurst, this West End transfer is likely to firmly establish playwrite Florian Zeller in the UK.
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