Duke of York’s Theatre, London – until 2 November 2019
British theatre’s determination to adopt Florian Zeller as one of its own continues unabated as the Kiln Theatre’s production of The Son transfers into the Duke of York’s for the autumn. It completes a loose trilogy of family plays (The Father, The Mother) though it is decidedly less tricksy than either of its predecessors.
The subject at hand here is mental health and in some ways, the directness feels like the right choice. A child of a broken home, Nicolas is a troubled soul – his mum Anne is unable to cope on her own, his dad Pierre’s attentions are split with his new family, and no-one seems to really clock how deep his depression runs.
Michael Longhurst’s production is hauntingly good in its fluidity – scenes blur and merge into each other, bringing extratextual resonance to the relationships. And it is perfectly cast. Laurie Kynaston’s edgy intensity burns like cold fire as he evokes Nicolas’ ongoing torment, John Light’s Pierre mixes compassion and frustration as his despairing father and though she’s not given as much to do, a superlative Amanda Abbington plumbs aching depths of parental grief.
At the same time, there’s something a touch clinical about the straightforwardness of the narrative. Without his customary tricksiness, Zeller proves a dramatist much like any other and I’m not sure that The Son does much to dispel that notion. Chekhov’s gun is heavy-handedly employed, a late rug pull is far too obvious but maybe there’s something to be said about a piece of simple storytelling about just how complex and deep-rooted mental health issues can be, resisting easy explanation. Worth going to see to make up your own mind about.