Interview with The Father star Kenneth Cranham


Florian Zeller's drama The Father delighted critics when it transferred from the Theatre Royal Bath to the Tricycle Theatre and then to the West End's Wyndham's Theatre. The production was met with strong reviews, with universal praise for its star Kenneth Cranham and returns to the West End for a limited season at the Duke of York's Theatre, where it opens on 24 February 2016.

Cranham plays the lead role of Andre, an 80 year old who is suffering with dementia and living with his adult daughter. Through innovative staging, sharp writing and a set of outstanding performances, the audience are made to feel like they are inside Andre's mind, experiencing the frustration and confusion of someone suffering with the disease.

We caught up with Kenneth Cranham ahead of the Critics' Circle award ceremony to discuss the role, and his award for Best Actor.

DOH: Dom O'Hanlon
KC: Kenneth Cranham

DOH: Congratulations Kenneth on such a wonderful production. Did you think The Father would be this successful?

KC: It's quite remarkable. People are seeing it over and over again! A young writer-director I met had seen it four times. It's one of those that you can appreciate different elements every time you see it – whether it's the music, the lights, the sound...

DOH: You're getting repeat attenders – like a musical!

KC: You know, it's as tight as a musical – there's no spare fat on it. People wait for me after the show and they say to me “when are we going to see your Lear?” I say to them – if this was Lear we wouldn't be halfway through by now! You laugh, but it's true. My theory is that people go and see his [Shakespeare's] plays over and over again because they understand something different each time. If you stick on 'Pericles' or something they're not sure about, you know, it's not quite the same. Each production gives you something different.

DOH:Zeller is having a mini-revival of his own at the minute, with The Mother at the Tricycle and The Truth just announced at the Menier...

KC: He was disregarded. He's very clever to actually write something that gives the audience the experiences that he does. He's done it with just six actors. Every single person it touches – just like you, everyone has a personal connection to it.

DOH: How does it feel as an actor to receive this award, decided by the critics?

KC: Actually, whilst I'm working I don't read reviews. Even good reviews, it's hard to read them when you're in the moment. If I had to describe acting, it would be about imagination and the text. Reading reviews can get in the way. In between the productions though, I do read the reviews. I couldn't believe the reviews for this - just like you they've all had a connection. The reviewers have all shared their own stories and I've never seen that for any show.

DOH: It must be nice to be at an award ceremony where you know you've won. There's no nervous waiting for that envelope to open...

KC: Yes! There's Denise Gough over there, I think we're the 'favourites' to win in our categories...! The last time I was at one of these things I was the young boy. I was nominated for an Olivier Award for An Inspector Calls (1993) and was up against Paul Eddington and Paul Scofield – I was the youngest one! Everyone said to me when I didn't win that I looked so happy. To be honest, I was just so happy to not have to give a speech!

DOH: The audience reaction is so powerful – from my friend next to me in tears to the people on the other side who didn't understand the sound effects and thought something had gone wrong.

KC: When I first heard that sound effect I thought there was something wrong with it! I now use that distortion to know where I'm going in the text. I listen to it and recognise where I am in the text and where we're going next.

DOH: How do you feel at the end of a performance? It must be so draining!

KC: It's nearly always gone well, so it's always a vigorous ending. It's only an hour and a half. It's an odd part – you get two very big scenes at the beginning and you're suddenly stranded at the end. Once you've got past those big scenes you're a bit of a passenger. I used to get really intimidated by these big speeches. As it's written by a 'comedian Francais', I used to think he was really clever and I just didn't get it!

DOH: Was the rehearsal process for this play any different to others you've done?

KC: No, no. There was no improvisation or anything like that. What we did do was get a lot of people come and talk to us about it. It's a difficult rogue area where different types of people are working with people with this disease. The whole thing is really is you either resist them or you go along with whatever direction they take, which I think is the way to deal with it.

DOH: It's such a hard topic to explore on stage.

KC: It's bizarre. It's such a difficult topic.

DOH: Well I can't wait to see it again at the Duke of York's. Thank you for talking to us, and enjoy the ceremony!

KC: Thank you!

The Father is running at the Duke of York's Theatre from from 24 February to 26 March 2016.

- Edited by Dom O'Hanlon

Looking for the best seats...