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Review: Strindberg's The Father at Trafalgar Studios 2

Emily Dobbs and Alex Ferns in The Father, Trafalgar Studios. Photo: Tristram Kenton

When August Strindberg wrote The Father he was going through marital problems and boy do they show in this tug of love play about two parents fighting over their daughter's education. There's a bit more to it than that, of course, but that is what kicks things off.

Captain (Eastenders' Alex Ferns) is a military officer and scientist and lives in a house with his wife Laura (Emily Dobbs), daughter Bertha (Millie Thew) and nanny (June Watson) together with an unseen nurse and mother-in-law.

He wants to send Bertha to live with a family in town for her education and also to get her away from the influence of the women in the house who have differing religious beliefs. Captain himself is an atheist.

Demonstrating his rights as a father, and the lack of those for Laura as his wife and a mother, he tells her that Bertha is going to be sent away.

Laura uses the only things available to her, her wile and cunning to prevent the plans. She plants seeds of doubt in the Captain's mind about Bertha's paternity and begins to spread rumours about his mental health. Strindberg himself was to suffer from some sort of mental breakdown resulting in hospitalisation just a few years after writing The Father.

So this isn't just a battle about parents who disagree but a battle between the sexes in a misogynistic society and a battle for sanity. Getting Captain sectioned is a cunning move, as he points out to his wife, she needs him alive in order to maintain her lifestyle. (Interesting that this has been programmed at the same time as The Ruling Class on the main stage which is also about getting someone sectioned.)

A slight problem I had with The Father is that Laura doesn't come across so much as a woman disadvantaged by the laws governing her sex but as a cold-hearted bitch which makes it hard to feel sympathy. Captain isn't particularly likeable either, he has an explosive personality and much of your opinion depends on whether you believe that he actually loves/loved Laura. He certainly loves his daughter and by the end you do feel for him as he is manipulated and betrayed by those around him.

However the play's most potent moment comes in the final scene. Laura's plans have come to fruition, everyone is culpable and yet no one emerges as victor.

You can catch The Father at Trafalgar Studios 2 until April 11 and it is 100 minutes without and interval.


June Watson was in Wreckers with Benedict Cumberbatch and there is this picture of a photoshoot but just in case they weren't photographed together but photo-shopped into one image then I'm going to use Andrew Scott as a back up.