Who Killed My Father

May 12 2023 | By More

★★★★☆   Compelling

Traverse: Thu 11 – Fri 12 May 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Who Killed My Father at the Traverse mixes the personal and the political thoroughly successfully.

The touring production from surrogate productions is based on Qui a tué mon père by Édouard Louis (translated by Lorin Stein).

Michael Marcus in Who Killed My Father by Édouard Louis, translated by Lorin Stein, and adapted and directed for stage by Nora Wardell for theatre company surrogate. Credit Emily Macinnes5

Michael Marcus in Who Killed My Father. Pic: Emily Macinnes

Louis’s best-known work, The End of Eddy, has appeared in two contrasting, successful adaptations at the International Festival in 2018 and 2022. Anyone who saw either of them will be familiar with much of the inspiration behind this angry and affecting memoir of the writer’s father.

It is not any kind of spoiler to say that this is far from a whodunnit. The title is emphatically not a question; from the start, the belief is clearly stated that his father was killed by the forces of politics.

Louis grew up in one of those small towns in the north of France that were once bastions of the left, but have become a fertile ground for the extreme right. Neoliberal policies have gutted the industrial heartland, then blamed those living there for not having work.

politics is life or death

The philosophy is that ‘the poor are too rich, and the rich aren’t rich enough’, expounded by those privileged enough to treat politics as a matter of opinion or personal expression.

For those like Louis’s father, politics is life or death. Forced to go back to work after having his back literally broken, he finds himself broken again. For Louis, this is not a metaphor, it is the absolute truth. Chirac, Sarkozy, Hollande and Macron are not virtual killers, they are actual murderers.

Michael Marcus in Who Killed My Father. Pic: Emily Macinnes.

Alongside the righteous indignation, and call for revenge, is a nuanced and ambiguous portrait of a love-hate relationship. The son’s sexuality made him an outsider; the father’s own frustrations led him (like most around him) to turn to alcoholism, intolerance and violence.

It is an unflinching portrayal, but done with genuine love and grace. The original book is a short one, and seems to have been conceived at least partly in theatrical terms; it certainly transfers to the stage successfully.

Nora Wardell’s adaptation and direction are economic and fluent, full of stagecraft whose invention is worn lightly. This is done justice by the unassuming magnetism of Michael Marcus.

delicacy and vulnerability

Marcus gives a performance of delicacy and vulnerability. There is an aching realism that gives it urgency; the reminiscences give every appearance of happening in real time, just as they occur to the character. There is an unforced physicality to the portrayal that invites the audience into his world.

Michael Marcus in Who Killed My Father. Pic: Emily Macinnes.

Hazel Low and Blythe Brett’s design is similarly inventive, full of clever and apparently casual symbolism of roads taken and not taken, of opportunities lost and stolen. Joshua Gadsby’s lighting is simple but effective, while XANA’s sound design is arresting.

The joins between the more personal and overtly consciousness-raising parts of the script are undoubtedly on the awkward side, but the production never loses its effectiveness. There is always room for ambiguity, not least in the simple act of the performer putting on a yellow hi-vis vest, with all the uneasiness this entails in the world of French politics.

The political observations are universal, the explorations of family perhaps even more so. This is an engrossing piece of theatre, tautly written and beautifully staged.

Running time: One hour (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Thursday 11 – Friday 12 May 2023
Daily at 8.00 pm
Details and tickets: Book here.

surrogate productions website: https://www.surrogate-productions.com
Instagram: @surrogate_p

Scottish tour continues to May 30 2023

MacArts: 14 May 2023

Platform Theatre: 16 May 2023

Beacon Arts Centre: 18 May 2023

Universal Hall: 20 May 2023

An Lanntair: 23 May 2023

Eden Court: 25-26 May 2023

The Lemon Tree: 30 May 2023


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