Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester; Thursday 13th July 2017
Since the dawn of time itself, women everywhere have noticed at some point in their lives that men are all:
- The same
- Totally incapable of showing any kind of emotions or feelings, or stuff like that.
In response, and as a means of wearing the above denunciations as a badge of honour, men everywhere have discovered the artistic beauty of offering:
- A smile
- A nod
- A softly, sincerely and quietly delivered “thank you for the useful feedback”.
This war of attrition may not be showing any immediate sign of ending, but productions like Fatherland look set to change perceptions and attitudes to the stigma associated with male emotional indifference – starting with the man that most of us know better than any other: our fathers.
Created by the unlikely (but effective) trio of a couple of playwrights and an electro-dance musician, Fatherland is a verbatim performance inspired by interviews held with various pairs of fathers and their sons in each of the writer’s home towns. What emerges is a mixture of anecdotes and random conversations that cover topics ranging from wearing the wrong football shirt to Brexit.
Given the (verbatim theatre + Brexit = danger) equation, Fatherland initially looked to be heading dangerously close to emulating the embarrassing theatrical catastrophe that was the National Theatre’s My Country. Thankfully though, it delivered a far more believable and appreciable experience, brimming with freshness and innovation – in terms of both content and presentation.
The cast is large, and composed entirely of men, at one point there must have been 50 people on stage. A variety of fatherly characters with a variety of fatherly stories took it in turns to sing and dance their way through the show. It was no surprise that the music sounded sharp, innovative and highly professional, but the real audio show-stealer was the amazing effect created when the singers left the Royal Exchange’s enclosed theatre space and bellowed out their words in the foyer outside – the deep echoes reverberating throughout the building were stunning.
Lacking in any traditionally coherent storyline and punctuated with numerous musical outbursts, Fatherland began slightly unsteadily and was initially troublesome to follow. But as multiple characters and stories took to the stage, the performance as a whole began to settle down and eventually it evolved into an evocative and entertaining storytelling experience.
Yes, there’s lots of stereotypically fatherly chat about football, drinking, fighting, etc. – but look deeper in amongst all that and you’ll find that these are things born of emotion, passion, sentiment, feeling ….