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Review: Who Killed My Father (Young Vic)

Review by Daz Gale


The Young Vic is having a storming year – not just by housing some fantastic shows at their venue but also seeing them move on to further life with transfers to the West End and Broadway. Hoping to follow in their footsteps is a London transfer in itself as they host the UK premiere of Who Killed My Father?


Starting life as an autobiographical book Qui a tué mon père by French writer Édouard Louis, it has now been translated into thirty languages. The story of a son returning to the small, conservative town in the north of France where he grew up as a gay teenager to find his dying father, as he wonders who is responsible for this, the play darts back and forth playing out in a non-linear structure as we learn more about the sons past and his complicated relationship with his father.



This one-man play stars Hans Kesting who has previously played the role with International Theater Amsterdam (who have produced this with the Young Vic). Returning to the role he was already familiar with, but this time performing it in English for the first time gives a clearly accomplished performer new ground to cover as he delves into his character.


The writing of Who Killed My Father is so superb, it could work in any language – with the basic premise immediately compelling. Hans gives a nuanced and understated performance full of balance which allows the louder, more exaggerated moments in the play to really stand out. Having to command that stage alone for 90 minutes without disappearing out of view for even a moment is a tall order but Hans more than rises to the occasion, in a truly commanding an captivating performance.



Translated, adapted and directed by Ivo Van Hove, you already know you are going to be greeted with something sensational, such is the high calibre and regard for his work. Thankfully, he doesn’t let us down with a subtle direction that puts an emphasis on even the tiniest of movements. Scenography and Lighting from Jan Versweyveld add to the affair, with a cold and harsh set littered with details such as punched holes in the walls and cigarette butts on the floor. The lighting is responsible for some standout moments including an unexpected and sudden use of a disco ball, completely transforming the atmosphere, and the Heavenly approach to the character opening the door every time he smokes.


Consistently mesmerising to witness, Who Killed My Father is also full of surprises. For such a serious and heartfelt play, perhaps you wont be expecting a performance of ‘Barbie Girl’ by Aqua? However, this 90s music fan was very much here for it. A sweet story about the characters longing for Titanic on video as a birthday present provided a surprisingly sentimental highlight, soundtracked by a seemingly never-ending version of Celine Dions ‘My Heart Will Go On’ playing in the background.



Who Killed My Father features some difficult themes. Homophobia is at the heart of the story as Hans portrays a young boy, longing for his fathers attention and approval, who is met with rejection and a failure to understand him. The demons his father faces include alcoholism, social deprivation and a gruelling work schedule that results in the poor health he finds himself in in his latter years. The theme of a Government directly being responsible for the health and lack of care of the working class feels instantly relatable and incredibly timely, given recent events. A speech towards the shows climax where Hans mentions the impact on Frances poorest people while the wealthy got tax cuts hit even harder considering the current cost of living crisis.



This wasn’t the only relatable moment in the play though. The performance took place just half an hour after the announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth. While the Young Vic respectfully began the performance with a minutes silence in her honour, watching a performance while it was all so fresh only heightened emotions, allowing the audience to really be immersed in the fairly sombre and emotive narrative. Part of me wonders if I would have had a different experience had I seen the show on a normal day, but the fact it allowed myself and the audience to escape into the story while simultaneously drawing comparisons to current situations is a testament to not only the brilliance of the writing but also the acting.



Who Killed My Father is an incredibly well-written piece of theatre, full of depth and surprises. It’s one consistency is the high standard of the writing, played out phenomenally by Hans Kesting. Predominantly dark with a smattering of light moments and unexpectedly relatable, it was a great example of the power of theatre and how it can bring an audience together, even in the most troubling of times.


★★★★


Who Killed My Father plays at the Young Vic until September 24th. Tickets from https://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/who-killed-my-father


Photos by Jan Versweyveld

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