Review - The Son at the Duke of York's Theatre
Everything Florian Zeller puts his pen to seems to end up in the West End, from his Olivier Award-winning play The Father to his recent success with The Height of the Storm, set to transfer to Broadway next week. His latest, The Son, is the first to transfer to the West End from Indhu Rubasingham’s recently rebranded Kiln Theatre, and it’s a taut, emotive examination of the tragedy of adolescence depression.
Nicolas has hit a brick wall. Since his parents divorced, he’s been skipping school, locking himself away and it’s got to the point where his mother can’t cope. Anne asks his father, Pierre, if he can try something new, to look after his son with the woman he left his mother for and their new baby.
Even when Nicolas seems happy or stable, he’s struggling. His inability to articulate or understand what’s going on in his head only comes at the frustration of Pierre who only wants the best for his son, but my God is he a terrible father. Zeller’s play does a brilliant job at showing the frustrating generational gap that’s developed in understanding mental health. The “man-up, I had it worse” attitude, the guilt and responsibility that seems to trump what the person suffering is actually feeling.
In Christopher Hampton’s translation, Pierre is a pretty clinical father. Everything is methodological and he has to make sense of the issue, but depression an issue that doesn’t make sense. “I’m not made like other people, and I’m not made for this life”, he says, summing up the internal conflict in his head.
Michael Longhurst’s flowing production is tense, as the stage becomes a representation of his Nicolas’ mind. Whether it’s the mess Laurie Kynaston – who is terrific as the complex teenager – creates from trashing the room, or the black bag that hangs over the Lizzie Clachan’s otherwise clean set like a dark cloud in his head. People pop in and out, wandering across the stage to contextualise what Nicolas must be thinking.
Kynaston’s performance is unpredictable, erratic, and masterfully draws you into the same sense of worry those around him on stage are feeling. For the most part, you have hope he will pull through – something Zeller plays with – but with parents like Pierre and Anne, who pressure and belittle their son’s state, the kid's got no chance.
Amanda Abbington’s Anna pops up only occasionally throughout the play, we don’t get the chance to see her struggle like we do he ex-husband. John Light’s earnest and varied performance creates a father who has ultimately failed at the fundamentals of being a parent – compassion, understanding – and by projecting his lack of understanding onto his son proves costly.
The realisation he has another young son growing up quickly, possibly on the same track as his older brother, is sobering.
The Son tickets are available now.