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September 20, 2010 | by  | in Theatre |
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Father Familiar

Sam (Mel Dodge) visits her dementing father Roy (John Bach) every Christmas at the Old Folks’ Home in which he is slowly rotting. Roy’s memory is not what it once was and as Sam reminds him of the facts of his life and history, both major and minor, it paints a picture of their dysfuntional relationship. Sam could have been a world class pianist, if she had set her mind to it, and Roy could have been a world class father if he had tried at all.

Father Familiar unfolds over three scenes, all of them duologues. While each of the three scenes is incredibly well-shaped, paced and performed in and of themselves, there is very little sense of flow between them. This is not aided by the awkward and lazy transitions between the scenes. I thought theatre had collectively agreed that ‘the actors go off, the stage manager comes on in blacks and changes everything, then the actors come back’ transitions were a bad idea; they just slow everything down, as they do here. Father Familiar is a respectable 90 minutes long, but it feels much longer by the fifth or sixth time each of the plot points is stated and you are wishing it would move along a bit.

Playwright Branwen Millar plays some interesting structural games in Father Familiar, setting the last of the three scenes a long period of time before the first two. This does allow some interesting shaping of the plot and how it unfolds, but unfortunately, at the end of the day, it feels unneeded—as does the whole final scene, in my opinion. In its current incarnation this final scene of Father Familiar operates only to spell out rather bluntly the subtext that the audience works so hard to decode in the previous two scenes. It feels like Father Familiar doesn’t trust its audience enough to read between the lines. This is no crippling flaw, and, in fact, I suspect it would only take a few quick rewrites to change this (though maybe a few more would be needed to massage out the sense that this whole work is an exercise in telling rather than showing).

Stephanie McKellar-Smith’s direction is uncluttered and well thought through (with the exception of the already mentioned transitions). Both performances hover between very good and very, very good. They both, however, peak emotionally too early, meaning that there is no emotional build-up over the last third of the play, more of one sustained emotional note.

Almost the oddest thing about Father Familiar is that it’s not playing in Circa Two. With its solid script, renowned cast and older and more traditional target market, it seems practically perfect for that space, fitting easily among the work that usually is put on there. This is no bad thing. It just feels odd to see such a work at BATS. Maybe not exactly out of place, more unexpected.

Father Familiar
wri. Branwen Millar
dir. Stephanie McKellar-Smith
perf. John Bach and Mel Dodge

at BATS (www.bats.co.nz) at 8.30pm until the 2nd of October.
book@bats.co.nz or (04) 802 4175

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About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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