IT is only fitting that Florian Zeller’s magnificent trilogy ends at the Kiln Theatre. For it was at the Kiln (or Tricycle as was) that the journey began with The Father nearly four years ago, turned to The Mother a year later and is now ending with The Son.
Like the two other plays, The Son’s heart is the mind. In this instance, not the loss of it (The Father) but its disruption and disturbance. A young mind damaged – and then scarred again by family breakup.
The son is Nicolas, beautifully and deftly played by Laurie Kynaston. A teenager whose life has been derailed by the breakup of parents Anne (Amanda Abbington) and Pierre (John Light). Pierre is now living with his new and younger partner Sofia (Amaka Okafor) and their baby son. Anne lives alone, a broken individual.
We then observe Nicolas as he misses school and goes to live with his father in an attempt to reboot his life. It seems this will be a big turning point. But all the time he is hiding behind a mask. Saying one thing, doing another. Occasionally railing against Sofia for breaking up the family home. Sometimes, venting his spleen on Pierre. Then being sweetness personified. It is a see-saw of a journey full of deception and without a happy ending, despite the best endeavours of Anne (still reeling from the breakup of the marital home) and Nicolas to revive the family home.
The Son is a truly moving story that is perfectly executed. John Light’s Pierre is all fire and brimstone, with plenty of gremlins himself to deal with. Okafor’s Sofia is all consideration and understanding while Abbington’s Anne is a shell of a person, left devastated by her husband’s betrayal. Kynaston is just sublime. Not a foot wrong between them.
The play will shock many and bring tears to some. Less complex than The Father but none the worse for it. Far from it. This is a ticking time bomb of a tale that needs to be told, viewed and heard. Mental illness can affect us all, young and old. The ending is a poignant one.
It is not without its humour – Light’s eccentric dancing at one stage will result in a smile or three. And it is beautifully staged with the scenes blending into one another, cleverly maintaining the play’s pace. A master decision from director Michael Longhurst. As is that of littering the stage with the son’s rubble – a reminder of the disturbed mind that lies inside the head of Nicolas. A perfect metaphor in an utterly compelling play.
Zeller is a master story teller whose work is essential viewing. Although not a betting man, I would put five euros on The Son ending up in the West End where it truly belongs. Theatre at its very best. Magnifique.
Title photo by Marc Brenner