DramaNorth WestPhysical TheatreReview

MIF 2017: Fatherland – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester 

Writer: Scott Graham, Karl Hyde, Simon Stephens

Music: Karl Hyde

Director: Scott Graham

Reviewer: Jo Beggs

Scott Graham, Karl Hyde and Simon Stephens all went home. Back to their scattered hometowns, those places long left behind but which had shaped their childhoods and their lives. In Corby, Kidderminster, and Stockport they interviewed men about their fathers and their sons. Some say men don’t talk about this stuff. These men talked.

They talked about intimate moments – sitting on the sofa, dozing off to the Match Of The Day music – they talked about childhoods amid chaos, alcoholism, and violence. Happy families, dysfunctional families, dispersed families. Absent fathers, surrogate fathers, single fathers. Births, deaths, celebrations, and regrets.

Twelve interviews are boiled down to an hour and half of storytelling in speech and song, personal, intimate stories told through the voices of others. There is plenty to like in the stories. They’re funny, they’re shocking, they celebrate the ordinary and the memorable. Why the writers chose to break them up with episodic ‘how we made this show’ interludes is, then, the question you have to ask. It’s like watching a movie on DVD with the Director’s commentary on – all directed at one interviewee who won’t play ball. Luke (Ryan Fletcher) is not convinced at all. He questions the honesty of the work, whether the writers really respect the men they’re interviewing. He’s suspicious that they’re poking fun at the towns they left behind. He wants to know how much money they’re making out of it all. He feels that the whole thing is rather self-indulgent. He’s right. Setting out to make a show about other men, they’ve really only made a show about themselves.

The choral sections of Fatherland work well. Powerful male voices fill the intimate space wonderfully, the words taken directly from the interviews, the score reminiscent of Psalms, dance music and football chants. They don’t need the rather overpowering recorded accompaniment, especially when they’re joined, towards the end, by an additional community choir. The combination makes for a sound that is, in turn, surprisingly threatening and totally joyful.

Frantic Assembly’s trademark physical work breaks up the narrative – and makes great use of the revolving metal platform of a stage (design by Jon Bausor). There are a few lovely moments, beautifully lit (lighting design Jon Clark) and choreographed (Eddie Kay) where the men form a scrum, a pulsating mass, circles of movement, towers of bodies. They move with purpose, with a macho fearlessness that belies the insecurities and sincerity of their narratives.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Fatherland has less to do with fathers and more to do with place. There’s an interesting diversion where they explore the ideas around going ‘home’ to somewhere where you’re rooted whether you like it or not. Returning to such familiar places can be disorientating, finding you don’t fit into it any more, that life has moved on without you. There’s a probably a show in this. Probably a more interesting one than Fatherland.

Runs until 22 July 2017 | Image: Manuel Harlan

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