GALWAY-BASED community theatre group, Amigo Productions, presents the west of Ireland premiere of Florian Zeller’s award-winning play, The Father, next week at An Taibhdhearc.
Winner of the 2014 Moliere Award for France’s best play, The Father looks inside the mind of Andre, a retired dancer living with his adult daughter Anne and her husband. Or is he a retired engineer receiving a visit from Anne who has moved away with her boyfriend? Why do strangers keep turning up in his room? And where has he left his watch?
The Father is a tragi-comic mystery, a sobering and realistic family story, and Florian Zeller's unsentimental, emotionally intense look at the world through the eyes of a man experiencing dementia. Amigo Production’s staging of the play is in a translation by Christopher Hampton, the Oscar-winning adaptor of Dangerous Liaisons.
Earlier this week I met with Amigo founder Paul Hughes, and The Father director, Moira Mahoney, for whom this show is “my first adventure with Amigo, and hopefully not my last,” as she tells me when we settle down to talk.
Paul reveals how the company chose it for production; “One of our committee members, Iva Grillo-Gannon, was home on holidays in Albania she saw the play in Tirana. She came back raving about it and got me a copy of the script and I fell in love with it straight away; it is an amazing play.”
'We did not want to show him as a frail old man because he is in no way frail. He is physically very sound; he has just got increasingly forgetful'
“The play is seen through the eyes of a dementia sufferer” Moira adds. “It brings the audience on the same journey as Andre; it leads the audience into a state of confusion as we live Andre’s day to day life with him. We sometimes see people who we initially don’t recognise and then realise it is his daughter, or his son-in-law, or carer. It immerses us in Andre’s world. It is very funny at times and incredibly sad at other times but it raises awareness of the effect of Alzheimers', not only on the sufferer, but on their family and on their relationships within the family and outside the family unit.”
“It’s a memory play and Andre’s memories are skewed,” Moira continues. “At one point he tells us he was in the circus and at another that he was a tap dancer, but his daughter mentions that he was an engineer and that is credible as we see him tinkering with his watch and he is obsessed with time and order. We also hear a lot about two offstage characters, his daughter Elise, whom he loved but we never meet, and his ex partner, the mother of his two girls. We get a sense of his sadness over his past life through his conversations about them.”
Interestingly, Amigo are not portraying Andre as a very old man; “We are playing Andre in his late fifties because early-onset Alzheimer's is more prevalent than ever,” Moira explains. “We did not want to show him as a frail old man because he is in no way frail. He is physically very sound; he has just got increasingly forgetful and keeps mislaying his watch, which is the bane of his life.”
'With this show we are teaming with Western Alzheimers. With all our shows we partner with a suitable charity and help raise awareness for them'
Moira is full of admiration at the skill with which Zeller’s script conveys Andre’s bewilderment while not befuddling the audience. “The quality of the writing is exceptional; the audience are made to experience Andre’s confusion yet at the same time they can totally follow the story. A lot of it is in the acting as well. Pierre, Andre’s son-in-law, changes in every scene so who is the real Pierre? It is a challenging play to do because we must lead the audience into the confusion yet also allow them to understand what is going on.”
Paul mentions two of the production’s important partners; “With this show we are teaming with Western Alzheimers. With all our shows we partner with a suitable charity and help raise awareness for them. As part of that partnership every night of the show we will give the proceeds of the raffle directly to them and we will also circulate leaflets about Alzheimers'. Also, our main sponsor is St Columba’s Credit Union and without them we couldn’t have brought this to the stage. We are very grateful for all the support we have got from a range of people and now it only remains for audiences to come in and see the play.”
The cast features Michael Patrick Breen (Andre ) with Iva Grillo-Gannon, Andrew Carney, Iona Le Gros, Ollie Turner, and Grainne Sheehan. The Father runs at An Taibhdhearc from Wednesday April 10 to Saturday 13 at 8pm. Tickets are €18/15 via 091 - 562024 or email [email protected].