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23 February 2011

Fatherland at the Gate theatre

A play about incestuous love is subtle and shocking.

By Anna Winter

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.

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