The Son: Theatre Review

Rating: 3

By Georgia Brown

Florian Zeller dazzled with his dissection of dementia, The Father, in which the stage empties as a man gradually loses his mind. His companion piece, not quite so heart-rending, explored another searing psychological void, that of so-called ‘empty-nest syndrome’ in which a woman loses her sense of herself as a mother. 

Now comes the final part of the trilogy, The Son, which falls dramatically short of its parent-plays, with neither the form nor Michael Longhurst’s staging successfully amplifying a depressed teenager’s struggle to see his way through the fog of adolescent existential angst and bitter anger at his parents’ break-up. 

Like the previous plays, The Son is staged in a white cube which elegantly lends itself to become variously chic Parisian apartments and a hospital consulting room. A boy in a hoodie is scribbling frantically on the panelling; an antlered stag’s head – presumably a trophy passed down by his hunting-mad grandfather – is slumped on the floor; a huge storage bag hangs from the ceiling. When it empties, Nicolas’s baggage – sleeping bag, earphones, rugger ball, smelly clothes, dartboard – spills out, messing the place up. Rather crudely symbolic.

The form is linear but for a manipulative twist; the situation conventional. The boy’s busy lawyer father is separated from his mother and now lives with his girlfriend and their new baby. Their son Nicolas has been bunking off school for three months without his mother realising it. ‘I don’t know where his sadness comes from,’ says this unimaginative, underwritten character which Amanda Abbington fails to fill out. And yet Nicolas is remarkable articulate about how he feels, torn in two by his parents’ split. ‘It was as though I’d been chopped in half,’ he says. 

She wants her ex to take him. ‘But the baby’s not sleeping through,’ says self-absorbed though mildly more emotionally intelligent Dad (John Light), whose guilt occasionally kicks in. ‘Don’t worry, I’m here,’ he says, flinching when she touches him. He is anything but there. But we laugh. 

Little by little, however, the laughter dries up, largely thanks to a compelling Laurie Kynaston, who is extremely affecting as Nicolas, surly, teary, blurry and smeary, as if he is dissolving before our very eyes. He brought to mind the words by another suicidal teenager, Prince Hamlet: ‘O that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew.’

The naïveté or blinkeredness of the parents beggars belief, however. Surely they would have taken their seriously self-harming son to a doctor? 

Still, there is no shortage of tension, even before we hear about hunting rifle behind the cupboard. While I was moved, I also felt manipulated.

The Son is at the Duke of Yorks, London WC2, until 2 November: 0844-871 7627,