FATHERLAND
Gate Theatre, London W11
Opened 16 February, 2011
**

You can divine pretty much everything of significance about Tom Holloway’s two-hander before the play itself begins. Look at the descriptions of the characters: “Angela – young enough to be in school” and “Mark – old enough to be her father”, and let the title resonate. There: you already know that it will be about the territory of fatherhood, of father/daughter relationships, especially with a teenage daughter verging on womanhood; that it is a battlefield, a series of power games, most with a sexual undercurrent, mostly about fatherly control, concern and attention, though some about the daughter as exploiter and manipulatrix. Look at Max Jones’s set of a half-built downstairs room, and you know that, like it, matters will never take finished shape. (Mind you, I have to admit that the pizza delivery bike smashing through the back wall came as something of a surprise.)
    
The only remaining questions are whether this is an actual father and daughter or merely a pretended one (has Mark abducted Angela? Is that barred window of literal or only symbolic portent?), and whether there will be any real sexual abuse involved or whether it will simply hang over proceedings in potentia. In the event, the answers (the apparent answers; I wouldn’t swear to their absolute accuracy) are yes, real father/daughter, and no, no real abuse… not that either really matters, because it’s the impressionism that’s important. Or would be, if it had anything original to say.
    
After seeing plays “about” child abuse on two successive evenings, I begin to think that artists should take more responsibility for not stoking exaggerated social or moral hysterias. Yes, of course art should ask awkward questions, but what if their awkwardness and the frequency of their asking is out of all proportion to their true heft? Holloway’s play tells us nothing, nor does it uncover any new areas in its dramatic investigations. The most it might achieve is to make a number of parents needlessly uneasy and guilty about their dealings with their offspring, and so mess two generations up even more, leading to more plays about messed-up relationships and… Well, it’s a way of keeping writers in material, I suppose. Caroline Steibeis directs Jonathan McGuinness and Angela Terence. At the end of the 70 minutes the writer, sitting behind me, had to begin the applause.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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