The curtains open to an immaculate set that represents Andre’s (played by Lim Kay Siu) mind as much as it does his physical surroundings. It doesn’t take long before the first jab of unease hits. Exasperated and broken, Ann (played by Tan Kheng Hua) bade her final farewell to her father as she declares her intention to leave him for Hong Kong in a bid to escape from the heartache of watching as dementia inundates her father and leaves him gasping for a sliver of whom he used to be.
Then a sinister score plays. The scene fades to black. Intense pulses of light flicker. And we see the set come into focus again. Something’s definitely changed, but we don’t know what. Yet, one thing is for sure—there is a stranger in his apartment. They claim to be Ann and her fiancé, but we know that’s not true… or is it?
As the play progresses, oxymorons trip over themselves as Andre battles with his memory to piece together a sensible timeline of events that have transpired. What is reality? What remains a figment of his imagination? Could it possibly be that these foreign figures are attempting to gaslight him into submitting his property? Speculations run amok as the narrative becomes increasingly muddled, even to the soberest of us.
The storyline itself wasn’t particularly mind-boggling or spectacular. It does what plays do—entertain—but doesn’t go above and beyond to bring to light any original or poignant message. Rather, it showcased the aspects of dementia the masses are already acquainted with. What is impressive, however, is the truthfulness of the plot in portraying the infuriating affliction of dementia from the point of view of a sufferer—unadorned, and devoid of any heavy-handed or maudlin devices to induce tears.
There is a certain light-heartedness to the play that takes you away from the harsh disorientation of Andre’s world. Also noteworthy is how the performers poured their heart into sincerely portraying the raw emotions of dementia sufferers and their caregivers, bringing to life anguish, turmoil, fear, and the occasional mirth that we feel, just as much as the characters do.
The delightfully understated and tender depiction in THE FATHER is one that toys with us through our multisensory faculties. Watch out for their subtle but incredibly effective use of the stage environment to metaphorise Andre’s decaying, confused state of mind: from the sound, lighting, cast, dialogues to the set that grows increasingly sparser every snapshot to culminate into the present disposition as we leave him.
Finally, the post-show dialogue with neurology experts and caregivers perfectly summarises the theatre experience as they seek to demystify and clarify concerns that audiences may have about the topic.
First written by Florian Zeller, THE FATHER won The Guardian’s pick for Best Play of the Year and The Moliere Award, France’s most prestigious honour for a new work of theatre. Experience life as dementia sufferers see it, and join Pangdemonium in opening up conversations on the widely-taboo topic of dementia from 2 – 18 March, 2018 at Victoria Theatre. THE FATHER stars Lim Kay Siu, Tan Kheng Hua, Janice Koh, Frances Lee, Emil Marwa and Keagan Kang.
Reviewed by Jessica Tan