Wednesday, 4 September 2019

REVIEW: The Son at The Duke of York’s Theatre


French playwright Florian Zeller’s family drama The Sontransfers onto the West End from The Kiln, London. Translated into English by Christopher Hampton, The Son the final part of Zeller’s trilogy: The Fatherand The Mother. Each dark play demonstrates a tale surrounding mental illness affecting the family, but Zeller claims this is “the only play I’ve ever written in which I knew what I wanted to say from the start, perhaps because it was the only one to be so directly connected to my life” (Capelle, 2019).

The Son, Nicolas (Laurie Kynaston), is experiencing deteriorating mental health after he struggles with the divorce of his parents. He is skipping school, lying, disconnecting from society and claims he is ill but does not know what to do. His mother Anne (Amanda Abbington) cannot cope with his vacant personality and aggression any longer so he decides to move in with his father, Pierre (John Light), his new wife Sophia (Amaka Okafor) and their baby Sacha. This ‘fresh start’ has moments of hope, with bonding sessions through bad dance moves, but it is soon clear that he is only getting worse with time. 

Michael Longhurst’s direction made the play deeply unsettling with lines that cut right through you. The characters were authentic and their approach to clinical depression was interesting, albeit incredibly infuriating. Their constant quizzing of ‘what is wrong with you?’ and ‘I don’t understand’ in patronising tones and a severe lack of empathy provoked strong emotion in me. Mental health cannot always be rationalised.

Pierre, an uptight Lawyer with strong differences to his son, found it difficult to connect with him and was unable to comprehend how his betrayal may have contributed to his mental health. Some of his scenes were a little forced and the lack of chemistry between Pierre and Sophia wasn’t convincing enough. Anne’s unhealthy nostalgia worsened her trauma and ability to help her son. As time progressed, the play became significantly more dramatic- seemingly a thriller rather than a drama. The hospital scene seemed fairly far-fetched and extreme and distant from reality. Amy Ball’s casting could not have been more flawless with Kynaston. How he depicted Nicolas’ every moment was phenomenal; the way he manipulates his parents and gave a truly brilliant performance of an unsettling character through various moods was theatrical perfection. 

The Sonis set in the father’s chic Parisian apartment, designed by Lizzie
Clachan, with a looking sack hanging over the stage like a symbolic dark cloud. The stage is versatile with sliding doors leading to other rooms and a clever lighting design to alternate between his father’s, mother’s and the hospital. 

Zeller’s writing draws out a deep flawed layer from these ordinary people. The ending is horrifying and is true torture for the family. I was gripped from start to end and had a physical reaction to the tense moments; squirming in my seat and almost shaking in preparation for what I knew what was coming. With the knowledge that the story stems from Zeller’s personal experience, it resonates with you even more. I would highly recommend watching purely for the interesting- if a little skewed- perspective on an issue many families in the world currently face.

Review by Hannah Storey

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls M3 | Price of Ticket: £65 (£45 early bird)

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