MIF17: Fatherland

A conversation about MIF’s Fatherland at the Royal Exchange, shortly after the end of the performance.

Son:  I just felt like I spent half of the play feeling like I wasn’t getting what I should be getting.  It felt there was so much left out, for the audience to fill in how the relationships were affecting their personalities.  So many fathers, so many personalities, it almost felt disjointed.

Dad:  What annoyed me was almost the opposite, that the fathers were all related to the performers and so it wasn’t a wide enough view, they’re all similar people, they came from similar places and similar backgrounds.

Son:  What I did like were the power relationships and how the main characters – the top three – slowly lost power through the performance as the mirror was held up to them.  That’s what happened.  What they thought they’d find was to look at these interesting lives and get all sorts of ideas but actually the mirror was held up to them which made them look at themselves and they lost all the power they thought they had.

Dad:  Did you feel any empathy with the main characters?  Because I didn’t, so when the mirror was held up I didn’t care enough about them.

Son:  Yes I agree.  There was no backstory to them so how could you?

Dad:  Did it make you think about anything?

Son:  I mean when they kept saying ‘What is your earliest memory of your father?’ I kept trying to remember.

Dad:  I was thinking, but I couldn’t think of mine.  I didn’t know my dad that well and he didn’t really have much involvement in parenting at all.

Son:  You’d have been a perfect candidate for this!

Dad:  I know.  Most of my early memories are really negative because he was the one who enforced discipline.  He drove the car.  I remember him picking me up from cubs.

Son:  Do you think that’s affected you in any way?  I think what the play tries to do is to make you hold the mirror up to yourself.

Dad:  Yes, I do.  You tend to either continue your father’s behaviour, good or bad, or you draw a line and say this must stop.  One of the fathers does exactly that in the play when he swears at his daughter, then apologises.  I wondered if it would be better not to have main characters.  In the best verbatim theatre they choose stories from random people but weave them very cleverly so that the theme becomes the main story.  I wanted it to be a play about everyone.

Son:  I remember walking through the gates of a park, I was in a coat, and I was holding your hand and I remember that feeling very, very good.  I think that’s the earliest it goes back.

We both smile and take a drink of beer.

Dad:  Visually it was amazing.

Son:  Do you think when they went into their dance routines that it actually connected to the story? Because that is what they were meant to do, to reinforce the subconscious.  They were difficult to interpret.  Like what does the flag mean at the end? I thought it was something like saying they were all in the same boat.  And the Scottish guy.  His character progression was very fast.

Dad:  And I found that I agreed with everything he said.  When he highlighted the flaws in the play I just thought, yes, you’re right.

Son:  I don’t think you were supposed to agree with it!  That’s not what it was meant to achieve.

Dad:  I kept finding myself agreeing with him all the way through.  It’s a very flawed script.  But how did it make you feel in the end?

Son:  It didn’t make me feel any great emotion because I couldn’t connect to the main characters.  It’s like, if I could relate what they were saying to my own relationship with you, then I would have been completely invested in it and I would have had no trouble interpreting the music and the dance.  But I felt too distant from it.  There was a lack of empathy that made it so difficult to let it in.

Dad:  I agree.  I kept wanting –

Son:  Yes, you’re trying, all the time you’re trying –

Dad:  I kept thinking how does what I’m seeing on stage connect to my family? How do I feel about my father and how do I feel about being a father, and I just couldn’t make the connection.

Son:  Everyone approaches it differently, everyone has a different relationship with their father.  It’s impossible to categorise.  So how do you make people feel empathetic about it?

Dad:  For me the biggest problem was that it is an all male cast and it became really masculine.

Son:  It wasn’t about fatherhood.  It was father-son.

Dad:  Exactly.  You wanted more softness.  Especially having a daughter.

Son:  They talked about daughters.  Do you think the all male cast was on purpose or did it work out like that?

Dad:  I guess they can write about whomever they want.

Son:  I do think the music scenes were good.  The composing.  It worked well.  The link from the scene they were in, into the musical scene then smack back into reality, it gave you that emotion.

Dad:  I think the structure of the play was excellent, the music, the movement.  It was the dialogue that let the play down.

Son:  I felt when I was watching it was my fault I couldn’t connect.

Dad:  I couldn’t find the emotional connection.

Son:  The doors and the ladder were good.

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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