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Review: The Son, at Kiln Theatre

08 March, 2019 — By Howard Loxton

Amaka Okafor and John Light in The Son. Photo: Marc Brenner

FLORIAN Zeller has previously presented the effects of dementia and bereavement in The Father and The Mother.

His new play, translated like the others by Christopher Hampton, centres on depressed teenager Nicolas.

Disturbed by his parents’ divorce, he cannot cope with life. He won’t go to school, says he isn’t well enough. After living with his mother (who sees boarding school as a solution) he asks to move to the home of his father and his new partner and then starts a new school, but his dysfunction escalates.

Nicolas is first seen scribbling on the walls of a white panelled room with no doors or windows, a stag’s head lying in a corner and a huge plastic bundle ominously hanging overhead. This space opens up to be real rooms but also fills with detritus to parallel the mess that his mind is in.

Laurie Kynaston’s withdrawn but duplicitous Nicolas shows glimpses of charming normality but can also be suddenly violent or self-harming. His condition is unexplained but distressingly real. John Light is equally fine as his solicitor father, caring but caught up in his new life; calmly reasonable until his patience snaps. Faced with a difficult choice, he seems to make the right one: but has he?

Amanda Abbington plays the desperate mother and Amaka Okafor Pierre’s new wife, trying to be tolerant but concerned for her baby.

Director Michael Longhurst sets natural performances from all the cast within Lizzie Clachan’s symbolic setting, eliding scenes in a flow that emphasises relationships and maintains tension with one significant hiatus clearing up debris to music that is deceptively tranquil. The Son isn’t as deeply perceptive as the other plays in this family trilogy but its non-stop 115 minutes are disturbingly compelling.

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