Fatherland at the Gate theatre

A play about incestuous love is subtle and shocking.

Fatherland is a play of great power, both subtle and shocking. The Australian playwright Tom Holloway's two-hander is set on a single evening, the action taking place in one room, in which a father (Jonathan McGuiness) and his teenage daughter Angela (Angela Terence) attempt to spend some innocent time together. He cheerfully suggests takeaway pizza and DVDs while preoccupied with a game of dominoes. She calls him a "giant loser-nerd"; he protests that he is "cool" and proposes that they go to a "concert" -- eliciting familiar adolescent disgust from Angela. But menace and discomfort soon creep in. The sharp rhythms and repetitions of their exchanges begin to reveal a far more troubling relationship.

The great merit of the play lies in its evasions and omissions, and its refusal to descend into some hysterical and graphic depiction of a Fritzl-style nightmare. What is portrayed is complex and challenging, as the play moves beyond the boundaries of naturalism. Both the set and dialogue enact different forms of collapse. When the father insists that the abuse he has inflicted was "done out of love and with love" and that "together we have something and share something that other people will never understand" we hear, on one level, the repulsive excuses and justifications of the paedophile. But beyond this, the play alludes to a number of complicated ideas and truths about the nature of love itself and the way in which it can be transgressed, defiled or transfigured. In the performances of these two actors, we see how each individual forms their own emotional narrative and versions of the past in order to make sense of the present. Cycles of confrontation and conciliation develop. A morally abhorrent and unacceptable love is born out of something genuine, leading to a final, disquieting moment of stillness. It is appropriate, given this painful subject matter, that Fatherland's ending resists any neat resolution.

Fatherland runs at the Gate until 12 March.

BBC/Chris Christodoulou
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Proms 2016: Violinist Ray Chen was the star of a varied show

The orchestra soaked up his energy in Bruch's first violin concerto to end on a triumphal note. 

Music matters, but so does its execution. This was the lesson of a BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus programme which combined both a premiere of a composition and a young violinist’s first performance at the Proms. 

The concert, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, opened with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic fantasy The Tempest, a lesser-known sibling to his Romeo and Juliet overture. The orchestra got off to a fidgety start, with some delayed entries, but fell into line in time for the frenetic chromatic runs that drive the piece. The end, a muted pizzicato, was suitably dramatic. 

Another nature-inspired piece followed – Anthony Payne’s composition for chorus and orchestra, Of Land, Sea and Sky. Payne drew on his memory of watching of white horses appearing to run across water, as well as other visual illusions. At the world premiere, the piece began promisingly. The chorus rolled back and forth slowly over scurrying strings with an eerie singing of “horses”. But the piece seemed to sink in the middle, and not even the curiosity of spoken word verse was enough to get the sinister mood back. 

No doubt much of the audience were drawn to this programme by the promise of Bruch violin concerto no. 1, but it was Ray Chen’s playing that proved to be most magnetic. The young Taiwanese-Australian soloist steered clear of melodrama in favour of a clean and animated sound. More subtle was his attention to the orchestra. The performance moved from furious cadenza to swelling sound, as if all players shared the same chain of thought. Between movements, someone coughed. I hated them. 

Ray Chen in performance. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Chen’s playing had many audience members on their feet, and only an encore appeased them. It was his first time at the Proms, but he'll be back. 

The orchestra seemed to retain some of his energy for Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region. Composed between 1904 and 1906, this is a setting of lines by the US poet Walt Whitman on death, and the idea of rebirth.

The orchestra and chorus blended beautifully in the delicate, dark opening. By the end, this had transformed into a triumphal arc of sound, in keeping with the joyful optimism of Whitman’s final verse: “We float/In Time and Space.” 

This movement from hesitancy to confident march seemed in many ways to capture the spirit of the concert. The programme had something for everyone. But it was Chen’s commanding performance that defined it.