Watching Fatherland at the Lyric Hammersmith, you know this very personal play is going to affect everyone in the room very differently. ‘Dad’ is a very personal word; it can conjure feelings of pride, love, loss and regret. What Fatherland does is create a weaving tapestry of what fatherhood means to 15 people interviewed for the piece, from men finding out they are to become dads to the last time they spoke to their father, in a remarkably honest piece of theatre.
It’s all very meta-theatre: the three main characters are the creatives, playwright Simon Stephens (writer of hit play Curious Incident...), director Scott Graham of company Frantic Assembly, and Underworld musician Karl Hyde. They embark on a journey across Britain to uncover stories, and set them to dances and music.
Hyde’s songs like “If Only You Knew” are boisterous, the kind you can imagine chanted from the terraces. They really come into their own when the onstage cast are joined by hoards of voices in the aisles of the stalls and circles, who remind us that these stories are real, and we each have our own. More tender piece like see an older man literally bouncing off the walls with pride as he screams to the world “This is my son”, while a firefighter telling the story of how he pulled an abandoned man out of a flat whose death had gone unnoticed since his sons never visited, is as gruesome as it is heart-breaking.
Although the piece really comes into its own when the three characters are asked “what’s your story?” They ask the questions, and they set out for answers, but why can’t they provide their own answers? They do, rounding off this self-indulgent (by their own admission) piece of theatre.
At the centre of the piece is Mark Arends (Hyde), Declan Bennett (Graham) and Nayasha Hatendi (Stephens) who play the creatives with the intention for the audience to paint their own pictures and write their own stories. It’s a play that will have you sharing tales in the bar afterwards. However, we only get a snapshot into each interview, and perhaps focussing in on a smaller range of stories might help the piece theatrically.
While it is a bracing portrait of modern masculinity, and I can’t help but feel a sequel with three female creatives about motherhood would be as equally as enlightening, and should be on the cards.