Memories come in fragments. They are never methodically organised or neatly categorised as the way you had first experienced it. When someone asks, “Do you remember?”, it takes a while to jog your memory, to recollect a longgone moment in time. This is what Pangdemonium’s The Father attempts to recreate—a collection of memories in disarray, but bound together by an ailing protagonist’s mind.
In The Father, André (Lim Kay Siu) is the titular character. He is ill, losing his memory and his grasp of time. He swears his daughter Anne (Tan Kheng Hua) is moving to Hong Kong, but the next moment, she denies this entirely. And just how does her husband (Emil Marwa) look like again? It is akin to a postmodernist play: people are not who they say they are, strangers burst in and out of André’s flat—or is this even his home?
Even with the play’s jumbled timeline, the internal logic of The Father holds true, chiefly bolstered by French playwright Florian Zeller’s effective writing. Zeller’s writing expertly highlights key narrative elements that the audience can piece together, while tapping into the sympathetic plight André has ended up in. With Christopher Hampton’s translation, certain moments in dialogue are beautiful, André describes his loss of memory as “I feel as if I’m losing all my leaves”, but at the same time, absolutely jarring—Anne’s husband complains that André is “getting on everybody’s tits”. Such small missteps are overshadowed as the story progresses and André’s downward spiral accordingly unfolds.
The set and lighting successfully enhance André’s gradual loss of reality, urging the audience to lean into his discomfort. As with most Pangdemonium productions, the stage set is slick and immaculate. André’s flat is adorned with books, a bronze antler statue, large chess pieces as bookends that eventually disappear as time progresses. Things go missing in parallel with André losing his mind. The diffusion of time is found when the warm lighting of a sunrise quickly fades into the soft, cool tones that set a scene of an evening dinner. Most strikingly, harsh strobe lighting is shown in between scenes. It gets dizzying on its third consecutive take, even mindlessly irritating, but it intentionally disorientates and alas, we are a step closer to experiencing what must be André’s occasional blackouts.
The word “dementia” is never uttered in The Father, but it lurks and eventually consumes André’s life. It is clear that Pangdemonium takes pride in positioning The Father as a play about dementia, but the brightest moments of The Father lies in its quiet venture towards absurdism. If André is an unreliable narrator, how can we trust this very narrative that both André and us, the audience, attempt to construct together? Perhaps in the end, the unraveling of a crumbling reality is not just André’s, it is ours.