Among the most chilling words I have heard were: “Phil, I think I am going mad.”
They were uttered in desperation by my brave mother Elsie, who had dementia and later died from its debilitating effects.
I could not help recalling them as I watched Laurence Leng brilliantly portray the defiant decline of his character Andre in Florian Zeller’s The Father by Burgess Hill Theatre Club.
I am sure there were many on stage and in the audience who recognised both Andre’s anguish and their own.
Leng sensitively shone a light into the confusion of the condition when he pleaded: “Who am I exactly?”
This was a tough but immensely rewarding play with splashes of dark humour delivered in a series of short and punchy sketches by a fine cast sharply directed by Pippa Jones.
At times Leng’s acting was so true in its aim that it seared into the soul.
When Andre cried pathetically in a nursing home: “Mummy. Mummy. I want my mummy. Have her come fetch me. I don’t want to be here” there were plenty who could recall such a scenario.
The style of the play must have left most of the audience in the little theatre as perplexed as the poor Andre, who lived in his own imaginary world. The excellent Jacky Hilary and Andy Squires added well to the confusion and escapism as a man and woman mysteriously floating in the troubled mind of Andre, while Stephanie Somerville was all beautiful gentleness with a touch of naivety as Laura in a carer’s uniform.
Around Andre, Josh Murphy captured the menace and frustration of the wine-swilling son-in-law Pierre. Hannah Wilson perfectly bottled Pierre’s unappreciated, nervy, harassed but caring wife Anne in a star performance.
Andre, never out of pyjamas, imagined just about everything that happened on stage. Leng made sure there was stark and superb reality about his rudeness, wit, charm, fantasising, aggression and final capitulation that touched the heart.
This was a play with a serious message delivered with 100 per cent conviction and great humanity.
Christ’s Hospital releases performing arts programme for summer. Click here to read more.