Same same but different – Pangdemonium’s The Father is a terrifying take on dementia as seen through one man’s eyes.
Florian Zeller’s The Father is a difficult play to watch. Not necessarily because it’s complicated (although it’ll certain leave you confused and terrified by the end), but because it’s a play that deals with the inevitable – growing old, and the very real possibility of encountering dementia, either in yourself or someone too close to you for comfort.
In Pangdemonium’s adaptation, Lim Kay Siu plays Andre, an ageing man and the eponymous father who lives with his daughter Ann. Lim Kay Siu is perfectly cast as the cantankerous Andre, who initially feels simply like a grumpy, forgetful old man, making trouble for his previous caretaker, losing his watch and chiding his daughter for wanting to move to Hong Kong to be with her new lover. But it’s not long before the play quickly lets slip that something is terribly amiss, as Andre begins to lose track of time, stops being able to recognise his own daughter and her lover, and gaps in his memory begin to appear with alarming frequency. Kay Siu’s performance transforms Andre into a completely sympathetic character, helpless as he falls mercy to his failing mind, the very world he used to know warping and shifting into something out of a nightmare.
What makes The Father so terrifying is that everything is set up to make even the audience feel as if they’re caught up in Andre’s dementia, with swift set changes that leave audiences paranoid and questioning which version of Eucien Chia’s claustrophobic living room set is the real one. Each blackout becomes a memory hole in Andre’s mind, and James Tan’s lighting design allows flashing strobe lights to make us feel as if we’ve been momentarily dazed, while Jing Ng’s disturbing electronic music breaks the naturalism, almost sinister in the way it creeps into nearly every scene. There is uncertainty in the heads of both Andre and the audience as we watch reality collapse and stop making sense, leaving us with the deeply uneasy feeling that we can no longer trust anything we see, much like an actual dementia patient.
Besides Kay Siu, The Father is also anchored by Tan Kheng Hua’s performance, who brings a sharp emotional edge as Andre’s daughter. Kheng Hua’s performance hits hard in a monologue about a dream she has about strangling her father. Aghast at her subconscious, she breaks down from guilt, a position familiar to many caregivers faced with difficult wards. Kheng Hua’s performance is a difficult one she balances with aplomb, as she simultaneously displays unending love for Andre, as well as pained understanding that this state of affairs may well be the new normal, with no cure in sight. One need only look to the mix of raw emotions on Ann’s face as she hugs Andre close to her, telling him everything will be all right, when she herself remains unsure if she can truly promise that.
In being able to bend audience perceptions, The Father is a prime example of how theatre has the power to recreate and represent some of the most difficult aspects of the human psyche. By ‘experiencing’ dementia’s effects firsthand, one is left better able to understand and sympathise with those suffering from dementia. Deceptively simple but devastatingly executed, there is something timeless about how The Father will no doubt to speak to any person, caregiver or not, and remind them to show a little more love for anyone who might be encountering a losing battle with dementia.
Performance attended 3/3/18
The Father plays at Victoria Theatre from 2nd – 18th March. Tickets available from SISTIC