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The Father by August Strindberg, in a new version by Laurie Slade

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Drama on 3 on BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3, 22 September 2013
 
Originally staged at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Joe Harmston's production was a no-holds barred exposť of the tensions lurking beneath an apparently idyllic marriage.
 
At one level, the production showed how Laura (Katy Stephens) managed to break free of the shackles imposed on her in a patriarchal society, and achieve her wish of being able to look after her daughter Bertha (Holly Earl).. The struggle was a difficult one, involving several emotionally harrowing scenes with her husband The Captain (Joe Dixon); but she proved equal to the task, her quiet, assertive tones contrasting starkly with The Captain's violent mood swings, alternating from extreme violent to childlike whining.  Despite her physical weakness, it was clear that she had mental control of him.
 
At another level, however, Harmston's production showed that Laura's triumph was based on ignorance.  The Captain was both a poet and a scientist, someone who tried his best to discover what he perceived as the secrets of the universe.  When he talked about his work with The Doctor (Patrick Toomey), his voice throbbed with excitement; in his view at least, he was achieving something great.  Unfortunately his comments fell on deaf ears; both Laura and The Doctor concluded that he needed to be committed to a mental institution.  The distinction between "madness" and "sanity" is always difficult to determine; in this production it was clear that The Captain was not being put away "for his own good" but rather because his views represented a threat to the social status quo in which religion and superstition prevailed over science.
 
The last scenes of this production were unbearably poignant, as the Captain returned to a childlike state.  His voice became quiet, almost meek, as he willingly allowed himself to be put into a strait-jacket by his old nurse Margaret (Barbara Young).  Superficially this might seem to prove the truth of Anna's point (maybe The Captain was mad); but Harmston's production suggested otherwise.  It rather seemed as if he preferred to inhabit a world of his own rather than engaging with the ignorant world represented by his spouse. 
 
Laurie Slade's version of the text pulled no punches, creating a fundamentally brutal environment in which only the fittest survived.  Whether they deserved to survive, however, is another matter: I, for one, felt particularly aggrieved that Anna should have emerged "victorious."