The problem is that, to have a show about fathers, you're always going to be catching your own foot regarding who you represent. Absent were the gay fathers, those that adopt, or those that have a positive emotional relationship with their father. Instead, we saw a collection of married with wives (or since divorced) in a heteronormative collective just re-instilling notions of what it is to be masculine, rather than a theatrical critique or to highlight that men can talk about emotions: the burden of representation is heavy here
The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester is a spaceship inside the giant hall of the old stock exchange. We sit in the round with the backstage visible to all. Absolutely all hands down to Jon Bausor – designer, Jon Clark - lighting designer, and Matthew Herman the music producer. Credit where credit is due: this performance has a pleasing industrial aesthetic and sound.
The frustration from sitting in the audience was that the work had a cycle to the way the narrative developed. The conventional narrative arc was too obvious. We had the same repetition of scenes, an emotional story, followed by a movement section concluding with humorous anecdote – and this repeated several times. The only new creative moment came from the community chorus chanting in unison in the open space outside of the theatre to allow the chant to echo around the grand hall – this was by far the greatest achievement of the work as this was powerful and sobering.
Fatherland is an industrial play-cum-musical and the music, songs, singing and general musical aspect is of a high standard, as it to be expected from Frantic Assembly; brilliantly arranged with harmonies that are both chilling and affirming. With the addition of an all-male mass chorus of 40 provides hair-raising and powerful sections. The music resembles Elbow, a northern powerhouse in the music world. However, within this performance, it feels like two separate works – to split them would be the ideal, keep a play and make a separate musical, because together, they simply didn't gel.
There is one scene featuring an 82-year old father, who is attached to an aerial and flies around like Peter Pan. It was at this exact moment that I realised that this work must have been produced as a parody of the formula of Frantic Assembly. Frantic Assembly, of which Scott Graham is the artistic director, sets us sitting in the audience, up to watch group choreography accompanied with loud sounds and bright lights. This formula is somewhat dated, safe and, sadly, repetitive and thus boring. The verbatim text openly gave the impression that the directors were at ends with how to stitch together the content of the work. However, the lead actors were brilliant, namely Tachia Newell who brought life to his work.
Not to destroy the ending, but bringing out a flag, straight from Les Mis, was the cherry on a non-existent cake.
- Fatherland is showing at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 22 July from £12 (for Greater Manchester residents on a lower wage) to £40. Full details on the MIF/Fatherland website.