upstaged rating: ⭐⭐
Fatherland is one of the central performance pieces at the 2017 Manchester International Festival. Staged in Manchester’s monumental Royal Exchange Theatre, Fatherland is the product of an impressive creative team and seeks to explore themes around fatherhood and men’s relationships with their fathers.
Co-created by Olivier Award-winning Simon Stephens (Writer), Scott Graham of physical theatre giants Frantic Assembly (Director) and founding member of Underworld Karl Hyde (Composer)- Fatherland has been described as a verbatim piece, though it is unclear how much the stories have been edited to fit the trio’s own agenda. Fatherland is inspired by conversations with fathers and sons from the creative team’s hometowns of Stockport, Kidderminster and Corby. So, there’s an overwhelming sense of each of the co-creators relationship with their old stomping ground.
As the play opens we meet the three interviewers, played admirably by Emun Elliott, Bryan Dick and Ferdy Roberts, who are ready to make their show. As they explain the premise behind their interviews with real men, there is a sense that we are watching a frame story – the ground is being laid before the show digs deeper. Sadly, Fatherland never really gets to the good stuff.
Along the way, the interviewers meet an array of characters with stories to tell – some aim for humour, some try to shock while other tales are warm, familiar and comforting. A range of subjects and experiences are tackled including alcoholism, violence, childhood experiences and their love of football. We hear tales surrounding fatherhood from single dads, men who have never known their fathers and those who are yet to father; we meet men who are firefighters, jolly pensioners and those battling mental health issues.
I’m just not sure why the creators choose to punctuate these stories with an intermittent reminder of the fact that they are making a show? Is there an element of self-indulgence? Is it a show to tell us more about the creators (who now reside in London) and the industrial towns from which they hail? One potential interviewee called Luke (Ryan Fletcher) shares the scepticism and questions the integrity of the interviewers, “Do you think this is going to be in any way interesting to anybody?” Funnily enough, I asked myself the same question frequently throughout the dull 90 minutes duration.