There are many dads in Frantic Assembly’s moving, slightly undeveloped show about 21st century masculinity but they are all, on some level, one and the same dad.
He’s a figure of awe if not dread, hard to reach, if not physically absent, represented on stage by a shapeless beige overcoat that’s put on and laid aside like an article of faith.
Written by Simon Stephens with Scott Graham directing and music from Underworld’s Karl Hyde, Fatherland is a condensing of interviews with men from its creators’ home towns of Kidderminster, Corby and Stockport. Alternating dialogue with group dance and chanting, the play offers a powerful collage of memory, yearning and male fragility, exploring what dads represent to their sons and what it is to become one.
The portrayals run a wide gamut and are often affecting. Among many highlights, Joseph Alessi is compelling as the prickly tough guy with a racist streak, and David Judge is touching as the youngster who struggles to bring up his mental illness with his father.
Many of the interviewees discuss childhood trauma and loss – there are hospital scenes and a gruesome account of a fire - but there are also moments of humour, as when certain guarded confessions are transformed into song sequences. At the play’s climax, a male chorus emerges from behind the audience to bellow: “There’s a lot I’d like to know, a lot I’d like to know”.
Unfortunately, Stephens has a little too much respect for his subjects to seriously deconstruct them, to get at the wider creeds of manly behaviour that tie them together. Instead he ties himself up in self-awareness, as one interviewee begins to question the form of the play and pick on the writers’ hubris in presuming to stand aloof.
Irritating fourth wall breaks aside, this is a searching cultural record executed with both delicacy and vigour.