"Dementia reality hits home hard"
by Sascha Cooper for remotegoat on 16/03/19

Dementia is a tough reality to have to experience. For the sufferer, we can only imagine what happens in their head, whilst for their friends and families, the struggle to come to terms with seeing the person slowly change in front of their eyes can be heartbreaking. 'The Father' cleverly uses a strong fusion of absurdism and hard hitting reality to show what it can be like living in a dementia patient's head, trying to piece things together to make sense of everything. However, if played well, it can also be interpreted as a dream like sequence seeing the events in a disjointed way to enable the audience to experience how that person feels every day. This was done especially well by the New Venture Theatre, due to the obvious amount of research they had done on the subject and the clear commitment they had to the play.

A special mention has to go to Michael Bulman who played the dementia patient Andre. He may not have long started acting after turning 70, but he showed a believable character who was confused and child like at times. It was clear that whilst this character was lovely to watch, you could feel the anger and frustration as he strives for independence despite the obvious degeneration of his condition. Michael is only going to get better and better as the run progresses.

Lyn Snowdon portrayed his daughter Anne in a really sensitive light. She showed a raw vulnerability as she watched her father get worse and tried everything possible to have a semblance of a life. But it was Lyn's connection with Michael that made the piece come alive in particular. It was clear that as actors they were comfortable with each other, which enabled the trust on stage to help with the complicated relationship these two had.

The rest of the cast had a special role to play. Characters that Andre recognised, but they chopped and changed around to create a distortion between fiction and reality in the slickest possible way. Mark Lester played Pierre, Anne's boyfriend and an additional character at the end. He showed frustration in another way - from the true outsider perspective. However, whether this frustration was true or not is another matter. Mark kept us guessing and was good to watch.

Emmie Spencer and Simon Messingham played The Woman and The Man. These roles were deliberately kept vague in order to add to the confusion - an absurdist technique which is not seen often these days. The way these two handled their role was subtle and yet so powerful that when it was revealed at the end who they were, it made sense.

Finally, Marie Owens played the carer Laura. It was clear that a lot of research had been done for this role from her portrayal of a woman who, like many others, believed her true purpose was to 'help others who need help'. Carers are underated and by highlighting what can be involved, she enabled us to understand fully the reality of what they have to do and put up with.

The set and lighting was also well designed to show the disorientation of change. Let's just say the set gets smaller and smaller each time in a subtle way to show how quickly dementia can creep up on you at any time. This in return sealed the deal on this powerful piece and brought everything together. 'The Father' is not just a piece of theatre, but a heightened reality.

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