Content warning: self-harm, suicide, mental illness, depression, death
‘The Son’, written by Florian Zeller and translated by Christopher Hampton is a phenomenal script. It treats the issues of teenage depression, self-harm and suicide thought-provokingly, effectively and empathetically and is a powerful depiction of a family struggling to understand their son’s mental illness. The script really takes its time, building tension and allowing us to inhabit these characters’ lives before shocking us with its tragic third act. ‘The Son’ is a difficult, complex and nuanced piece of writing that is extremely difficult to pull off for any creative team, but I am glad Dylan Evans and his team chose to perform this script as it is extremely important, moving and insightful.
However, it is disappointing that Evans’ production of this masterful script is ultimately underwhelming. I think the production’s greatest weakness is its lack of directorial vision. After having witnessed the production, I cannot understand what the intention or idea was for putting the play on beyond just performing the script. The most perplexing aspect of the production is its overlong and silent transitions, with the audience frequently left waiting, sometimes for several minutes, for something to happen between scenes. Occasionally, the audience would be presented with a completely empty stage with no music whilst we waited for cast members to come on after they had grabbed the relevant props for the next scene. This completely undermines any rising tension, with the audience taken out of the play’s reality during every overlong scene change. There were moments of attempted directorial flair, such as a sequence involving the eponymous son, played by Ollie Flowers, knocking over a cabinet out of which falls some balls of yarn. However, this moment of violent rage came out of absolutely nowhere, the significance of the balls of yarn was never explained or explored further and the next scene lacked any of the potent rage just witnessed, meaning that any sense of tension immediately dissipated. Some of the choices with blocking are also questionable. The action is pushed to the back of the stage and the majority of scenes take place with actors sitting down and talking. There is very little sense of dynamism throughout with the exception of one scene at the beginning of the second act which, given the rest of the play’s static nature, was a welcome surprise.
The production’s most effective aspects were its set and fight choreography. The fight was tightly choreographed, cleanly directed and convincingly performed by Flowers and Joe Harrington. The set, designed beautifully by Margaux Cooper and Matthew Wadey, was also highly effective, with a multicoloured wall at the back reinforcing the impression of a scattered and disturbed mind. Indeed, this strong use of colour at the back of the stage contrasts nicely with the relative monochrome of the naturalistic furniture with the set effectively dramatizing the son’s battle between his own thoughts and reality.
Praise must also be given to the performances who are clearly giving their all. In particular, Harrington and Flowers as Pierre and Nicholas create a convincing father-son dynamic that is easy to root for throughout. Harrington particularly sells the character of a father so lost in his work that he is blind to see the damage his behaviour is having on his family. Similarly, Flowers is convincing as the eponymous character, with his quiet and understated performance suggesting a stronger internal battle of emotions beneath the surface.
I did feel, however, that many of the show’s most emotional moments were ineffective. Particularly in the play’s climactic scene, the audience is given no time to breathe following a majorly shocking event and are thrust into another scene that seems tonally opposite to what the audience have just witnessed. This means that the beautifully-written final scene is so much less effective, as the audience have had no time to process what they have just seen.
Overall, if you haven’t read or seen a production of ‘The Son’ before, I would recommend you go and see this version at the ADC as it is an absolutely beautiful play suffused with empathy as well as rich and detailed characters. Furthermore, the production’s set design and performances are extremely effective albeit let down by lacklustre direction.
“The Son” is on in the ADC Theatre until Saturday the 7th of May; tickets may be bought here: https://www.adctheatre.com/whats-on/play/the-son/