Florian Zeller’s The Son is a tale of normal life for many. Most of us can connect to all least one strand of this story about a family falling apart through circumstance, selfishness and an inability to listen to each other, writes Michael Holland.
For me, it was like a life in the day of any of the SE London estates I’ve lived on: Dad leaves Mum and Son to start a new family elsewhere with New Wife and New Baby. Son, who lives with Mum and idolised Dad, now says, ‘I’ve been cut in half’, and starts to act out. Mum can’t handle Son so calls Dad to ‘have a word’. And that’s when it all starts to go wrong because Dad wants to focus on his new family, Son wants his Dad back, and Mum, well, she just seems to want everyone and everything to be nice and back to how it was. No chance: Son wants to move in with Dad but New Wife don’t like it, Plus Mum now feels hated and abandoned by the two biggest loves in her life. And all of this was revealed before a gun, a knife and mental health problems were introduced in to this play that never once looked like it was going to have a happy ending.
There is enough for everyone to relate to something in the mix, which is what makes Zeller’s play very watchable. The overarching feel is of a father-son story, but it is much more with all the other relationships going on: Friend, husband, child, parent, wife, Ex…
Each drip-fed revelation had a negative consequence that passed through all the protagonists. Hence, all the different inter-relationships going down like skittles. Confusing? Not really, but you had to be there. One problem was that I could see the Son’s downslide coming, so couldn’t understand why the parents on the stage couldn’t.
The Son highlights how one person in a family can impact on so many others, and it does it well. Laurie Kynaston in the title role does young man with problems perfectly. His nuanced portrayal of the helplessness that comes with a mental illness was both tragic and sweet – You did want to smother him with love and make everything okay. He hid his mental health problems just beneath the thin veneer of a sane façade with the power of a seasoned actor.
This is a very good play with only minor peeves that are not worth mentioning here. Okay, just one: the dad dancing for a little light relief was cringey and unnecessary.
Duke of York’s Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2B 4BG until 2nd November. Times: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm, Wednesday and Saturday matinee 3pm. Admission: From £15. Phone: 0844 871 7623.
Photos by Marc Brenner