I saw three excellent plays recently- The Father which originated at Theatre Royal Bath before moving for a limited run to Wyndham’s, Hangmen which I saw at The Royal Court and is the current production at Wyndham’s, and Dinner With Saddam at Menier Chocolate Factory.
When The Father opens, it appears to be straightforward comedy about Alzheimers. In other words, easy laughs at the way the old man can’t remember things. By scene two, when one woman goes into the kitchen and a new actor comes back out, it’s clear we are in a very different play, a drama in which we are inside the father’s head and are as confused by what’s going on as he is. By the end, we are as emotionally wrung out as him.
My mother had Alzheimers, which may have made me recognise the grief more, but experiencing the man’s desperate retreat into second childhood at the end had me in tears. It was an acting tour-de-force by Kenneth Cranham.
The Father is a French play written by Florian Zeller, who is clearly a huge talent, and translated by Christopher Hampton, whose credits include the hit translation of Art.
Hangmen by Martin McDonagh already feels like a classic. The pompous, arrogant man brought down by jealousy is the stuff of many great comedies. The sharp dialogue and the fast moving farce would be a gift to any actors but in the hands of David Morrissey and his fellow cast, they became comedy gold.
I never realised Morrissey is such a great comic actor. He starts off strutting the stage like a bantam cock as the second best hangman in Britain, newly redundant with the abolition of hanging and relishing the attention. Then comes an amazing moment when he seems to deflate before your eyes.
The second act in which one misunderstanding leads to another and disaster looms had me in stitches. Every line, every action counts. Together they make this one of the finest plays I have seen.
Dinner With Saddam by Anthony Horowitz also had a winning way with witty dialogue and farce. As the harassed head of the household in war torn Iraq, Sanjeev Bhaskar’s reactions both facial and verbal are very funny and his comic timing is perfect. It should be said that the whole cast was good.
It was however a play of two halves and the second act lost impetus with the arrival of Saddam Hussein and a massive dose of politics. It’s not that I didn’t find the analysis of the West’s position on Iraq interesting but it simply wasn’t that funny.
The Menier Chocolate Factory is a wonderful place for a theatre, intimate and exciting. This was my first visit. It won’t be my last.