On leaving the Gate Theatre after Fatherland you’ll be left in no doubt of its conviction – it’s a play that wants to make you squirm; yet despite its gritty intentions, it also leaves you a little perplexed.
Mark and Angela are a father and daughter attempting to have a quiet night of ice cream and DVDs. But below the surface of their awkward parent-child conversation lies a painful secret, soon derailing their evening into a chilling nightmare.
Jonathan McGuinness and Angela Terence put in good performances in this tragic two-hander. Terence has the aloofness and awkwardness of a teenager, while McGuinness’s Mark is instantly sympathetic, yet also sinister. There are times when their quick-fire dialogue feels a little staged but this will surely improve. The early scenes nicely set up a domestic environment with brooding violence clearly apparent beneath the trivia of their conversations. The play is precariously poised to turn nasty.
Unfortunately when the confrontation comes is all too abstract and confusing. This is primarily due to Tom Holloway’s script. It comes as somewhat of a surprise considering his billing as a one of Australia’s best stage writers, but the dialogue is far too obscure and elliptical. Mark and Angela go round in circles repeating themselves. What started as an interesting study into their inability to communicate soon becomes a little irritating. This is the difficulty of relying on inference, if you’re not careful the unsaid remains unsaid.
This is not through a lack of trying. McGuinness and Terence argue back and forth but fail to truly reach the heart of the matter. Caroline Steinbeis’s direction does its best to add further intensity to a play which already feels packed with drama. A red light focuses on a heart as it drops from the Christmas tree, the pizza delivery motorbike crashes through the wall and perhaps most effectively, the set disconcertingly slides away from the audience. Yet all this trickery and threatening tragedy doesn’t reveal the truth behind this incestuous bond. On reading the programme we’re told Holloway is attempting to describe the five stages of grief surrounding trauma, sadly this abstract endeavour doesn’t translate onto the stage.
The ATC is committed to producing ambitious theatre and this this nothing but ambitious and experimental. Fatherland oozes menace and has a truly unsettling close; it’s just a shame its message is lost along the way.
Fatherland runs at the Gate Theatre until 12th March. Tickets are £16.
By Jon Davis