Fatherland – Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, London

Co-author and writer: Simon Stephens

Co-author and composer: Karl Hyde

Co-author and director: Scott Graham

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

Masculism has perhaps become unfashionable at a time when, rightly, the movement for gender equality has gained urgent momentum. This new 90-minute piece, presented by Frantic Assembly as part of the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT), brings the male of the species back into the spotlight, with specific focus on father-son relationships.

The three co-authors put themselves at centre stage. Scott Graham played by Declan Bennett, Karl Hyde (Mark Arends) and Simon Stephens (Nyasha Hatendi) convene on the pretext of gathering interviews of sons about their fathers in order to create a work of theatre. A potential interviewee, Luke (Craig Stein) turns out to be fatherless and stays around to serve as built-in critic. Seven all-male actors play the interviewees in separate scenes and intercutting with each other and a male voice choir emerges from the audience towards the end

Graham (from Corby), Hyde (from Kidderminster) and Stephens (from Stockport) make Fatherland almost as much about land as about fathers, reflecting on the geographical social mobility of post-World War II generations in England. They all originate from places “on the periphery of somewhere pretty interesting”, but they have moved on, leaving behind immobile fathers and parts of themselves. “What is the first memory of your father?” is always their first question and they hear memories ranging from the humdrum – sons watching Match of the Day and Steven Seagal films with their fathers – to the dramatic – disturbing accounts of final partings.

Accounts of dysfunction and incompatibility abound, with little sign of pride or joy. When Daniel (David Judge) wails aloud “No. We don’t say the word love…” repeatedly, he strikes at the theme that becomes the essence of this poignant work and the inarticulacy that so often blights family life becomes tangible. Hyde’s music (co-composed with Matthew Herbert) lifts scenes from mundanity, particularly in echoing male voice choruses, and imaginative movement brings stories to vivid life. Jon Clark’s superb lighting design merits specific mention.

In his wounding parting shot, Luke cements his position as a potential theatre critic by telling the three co-authors that what they discover is “just stories” and not something truthful. He is exactly right. Fatherland is haunted by disappearing values in a disappearing land, telling stories, but doing so without breaking down stereotypes, nor digging far beneath the surface, nor unearthing any universal truths that would bind the stories together. For all that, the sheer theatricality of the entire experience makes it worth a look and a listen.

Runs until 23 June 2018 | Image: Tristram Kenton

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One Comment

  1. A very fair review. Frantic’s work is always visually and creatively stunning, uniquely so. But I didn’t feel as involved in (or as moved by) the men’s stories as I’d have liked. And I think that had something to do with the framing device of the three men conducting interviews. It was a tad distancing. Still, an absorbing evening.

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