Kiln Theatre, London – until 6 April 2019
There is a heartbreaking inevitability to Florian Zeller’s play The Son which is currently on at the Kiln Theatre. Nicolas (Laurie Kynaston), a once bubbly teenager, has become withdrawn since his parent’s divorce. He lies, skips school and his behaviour has started to frighten his mother Anne (Amanda Abbington).
Moving in with his father Pierre (John Light) and new wife Sofia (Amaka Okafor), it is hoped he will return him to his old self. Anne talks about Nicolas being ill, his father believes it is ‘a phase’ but whether through denial, fear of stigma or ignorance neither addresses what is obviously wrong with their son. The signs are glaring, a figurative and literal Chekhov’s gun, it’s a car crash in slow motion and you can’t look away.
Kynaston’s Nicolas is lost and disconnected, the confusion and loneliness painfully etched on his face and reflected in his demeanour. Both parents obviously love their son which makes his ‘disappearance’ and their confusion, distress and helplessness all the more heartbreaking.
Pierre ineffectually grasps for what he knows, what is familiar, but a combination of fear and feeling of failure manifests itself in frustration and anger. They cling to any faint sign of recovery but their denial, subconscious or otherwise, is ultimately their biggest failing; Zeller’s play perfectly highlighting the complexity of mental health problems and parenting. What happens isn’t a surprise but it is what is left behind that carries an intense emotional weight.
If I have one criticism, it is that the performances are powerful enough without the need for symbolic theatrical devices. Nicolas trashing Pierre and Sofia’s apartment or scrawling in thick black pen across the white walls feel like unnecessary embellishment. Nonetheless, The Son is a gripping and intense drama and I’m giving it four and a half stars.
It’s one hour and 45 minutes without an interval and is at the Kiln Theatre until April 6.