Our Father (review)

THE timing of Charlotte Keatley’s new drama Our Father, which opened at Watford Palace Theatre, last week, couldn’t have been timelier. It’s set during a blistering hot spring when a Peak District reservoir is running dry and threatens to expose not only the remains of a medieval village but also deep, dark family secrets that reach back through time.

The deeply troubled family – father Bill, his wife, Sheila and their student daughter Anna – have strong links to the area as it was Sheila’s father who built the reservoir.

Perhaps, subconsciously, he hoped the waters would wash away his sins as they succeeded in doing for another father, hundreds of years before, but nature has no intention of letting man get away with the awful crimes they hoped would remain hidden.

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Our Father is a harrowing tale which only becomes apparent as the drama builds to its climax.

What starts out as idyllic soon appears to be nothing more than a mirage. In the present day Anna finds it impossible to maintain a relationship with a man; her mother seems to be suffering a breakdown and her retired father has retreated to potting up his tomatoes.

In a much earlier time a young girl martyrs herself rather than face up to the horrors of her home life.

Once again Keatley, plays around with time in the same dizzying way as one of her earlier pieces, My Mother Never Said I Should, moving the action between the present, near past and way back into the mists of time and again, and she targets men for her scorn.

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Bill (a subtle performance by TV and stage actor Paul Greenwood) has let his eye wander as a result of being snubbed by his increasingly erratic wife. He doesn’t understand her needs or his daughter’s and appears, in turn, angry and frustrated at being kept at arm’s length. You could cut the tension with a knife.

Julia St John’ Sheila is an emotional wreck who begins to show the cracks in her mind at the same time as her father’s beloved vanity project starts to spring its own leaks.

She allows us in slowly and, without giving much away, lets the tension build to a shocking and unexpected conclusion.

The compact cast of five give a finely tuned performance as a family on the brink of collapse. There’s lots of dire, right-on, eco-friendly messages which, ultimately are irrelevant when it’s this little corner of humanity that is in need of help.

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Even the seemingly perfect countryside ranger, Jack, fails to live up to his high ideals. Overall Keatley seems disappointed with people, men in particular, and unpeels their flaws like an onion, one layer at a time.

There’s a clever set that pushes younger members of the cast to have the constitutions of mountain goats while lighting and special effects are put to good use in building tension .

The immensely powerful Our Father runs until March 3. For tickets call the box office 01923 225671 or go online www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk


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