A CurtainUp London Review
I didn't see The Mother but reading a review, the mother could not be Pierre's mother as The Mother is called Anne and married to Peter with a son Nicolas. Zeller specialises in conundrum, making the audience question his plot devices.
In The Son Nicolas (Laurie Kynaston) is the teenage only child from what is now a broken marriage, who starts having problems. His father Pierre (John Light) is now living apart from his first wife Anne (Amanda Abbington) and has started a new family with his second wife Sofia (Anaka Okafor). Anne visits Pierre to drop her bombshell that she cannot cope any longer with Nicolas's behaviour. Nicolas has stopped communicating with her and it has emerged from the school that they haven't seen him at school for three months.
Pierre meets with Nicolas at Anne's home to discuss the situation. Anne is proposing that Nicolas should go to boarding school if Pierre will not allow him to move in with him and new wife and baby. This meeting does not go well with Nicolas shrugging in reply to his father's questions about where he has been going instead of school. "Sometimes I feel I’m not made for this life, " say Nicolas.
Pierre repeatedly says that when he was Nicolas's age, he was doing his homework in the hospital, beside the bed his mother was in. Despite his mother's illness, Pierre completed his education and has a good job. This adversity in his teenage years makes Pierre somewhat less than sympathetic to his son's problems. There are at least two sources of guilt for Pierre, the broken marriage where he has moved out and left his son as well as his wife and the depressive genes and also maybe his commitment to his job.
It is agreed that Nicolas will go to live with his father, stepmother and baby brother and start at another school. Some of Nicolas's disturbed behaviour is staged with him writing on the walls or trashing his room, part of Lizzie Clachan's detailed set with a baby grand piano glimpsed through the doors. There is evidence of him self harming.
John Light's performance has that awkwardness of a man out of his depth, sensing guilt at the break up of his marriage and lacking parenting skills and experience. Anaka Okafor as Sofia is more sympathetic in the way in which she talks tenderly to the boy.
Anne refers to the sunny boy that Nicolas had been and in a short scene in Pierre's new family Sofia offers to teach Nicolas to dance and John Light gives a superb exhibition of "Dad dancing" and momentarily everyone is happy.
I shall not spoil the plot developments but this is a play with a very slow burn, talking as it does about the difficulties for the intergenerational response to mental health problems. What this play lacked for me was any mention of outside intervention from teachers or social workers but maybe France has fewer response agencies than the UK? However Nicolas is admitted as a hospital inpatient and a doctor has an opinion.
Amanda Abbington has too small a role for her character to be fully explored but Anaka Orafor's performance is promising and has depth. The star of this show for me is Laurie Kynaston as the troubled teenager in a strong and utterly convincing performance. He is undoubtedly an actor to look out for.
I wonder where Florian Zeller will source his next play, from dementia as in The Father here and The Height of the Storm hereor marital infidelity as on The Lie here and The Truth here or somewhere else?
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The Son by Florian Zeller
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Michael Longhurst
Starring: John Light, Amanda Abbington, Amaka Okafor
With: Oseloka Obi, Martin Turner
Design: Lizzie Clachan
Lighting Design: Lee Curran
Running time: One hour 40 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7328 1000
Booking to 6th April 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 26th February 2019 evening performance at Kiln Theatre, 269 Kilburn High Road, London, NW6 7JR (Tube: Kilburn)
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