Latest Review – Fatherland [Royal Exchange Theatre] [Manchester International Festival]

Image by Manuel Harlan


Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Until Saturday 24 June, 2017

As part of the 2017 Manchester International Festival

A centrepiece of this year’s Manchester International Festival, Fatherland is a powerful, immediate and stirring new verbatim theatre piece, uncovering and probing the often difficult relationship between father and son in a dynamic and rapidly evolving 21st Century England.

Co-created by Frantic Assembly’s Scott Graham, Underworld’s Karl Hyde and playwright Simon Stephens, the play is inspired by conversations the trio conducted with contrasting fathers and sons from across their own home towns in the heart of the country (Stockport, Corby and Bewdley). What is then ultimately rendered is a sort of meta-theatre production which sees the characters of Simon, Scott and Karl on a road trip through England as they attempt to gather material for a new piece of documentary theatre.

Brought to life by a 13-strong principal cast (later joined by a rousing volunteer community chorus), Fatherland isn’t simply a study of relationship but of nationality and identity as a whole, using edited versions of authentic accounts and reflections to drive to the tender, honest heart that few find easy to expose.

Throughout their journey, the trio of authors are confronted by the idea of location and questioned about their own actions, their intentions, their self-indulgence, often struggling to answer questions they happily put to others. Local lad Simon Stephens grew up in Stockport (just a short train ride from the Royal Exchange Theatre), but although he made a new home in London many years ago, he has used his home town as inspiration in many of his stage plays. Fatherland is no different, freely admitting its attempts to step away from the capital and put the lens on regional locations that are often severely overshadowed.

No matter where we move to or end up, thumbprints of our home towns will forever be embedded within us; many can’t wait to leave, but those who do often feel strangely and increasingly drawn back to the places they grew up in.

Many of the characters that feature have a personal connection to the authors, from close friends, old acquaintances and even Karl’s father himself, but interestingly, despite that connection, there is still a distance and a barrier that can be difficult to penetrate.

Using actors to perform the edited transcripts can feel a little forced and unnatural, though its the honesty and intimacy the production captures that elevates the depth and layers of the text.

Hyde’s discordant, contemporary folk soundtrack effectively navigates the fine line between moving and unsettling, using song an harmony to articulate some of the more extreme, bottled-up emotions.

Scott Graham’s production rattles along at an impressive pace, fluidly interweaving the various characters and conversations, with designer Jon Bausor, lighting designer Jon Clark and choreographer Eddie Kay helping to conjure a series of memorable and striking images and set pieces.

Reminiscent of Billy Elliot’s ‘Electricity‘ sequence, the euphoric, fantasy elements introduce a strange sense of magic realism to things, diluting some of the raw authenticity that grounds the action, though on the whole it’s a relatable, humorous and very different new work guaranteed to strike a chord with its audience.

Running Time: 1 hour and 30-minutes (approx.) (no interval)

Final Performance at The Royal Exchange Theatre: Saturday 22 July, 2017

For more information, and to book tickets, please Click Here.

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