Fatherland boldly explores the vast spectrum of fatherhood in modern England. It's a compact 90 minute performance crafted out of interviews based in each of the writers' hometowns: Stockport (Simon Stephens), Corby (Scott Graham), and Bewdley (Karl Hyde, of Underworld). From the poignancy of close familial relationships to the sting of their absence, the world into which you are drawn is a captivating and intense exploration of the intimacies, oddities, and mundanities of our 'everyday'.
This essence of life as it is lived seeps into the soundtrack. Taking influence from verbatim theatre - a form of documentary theatre which is shaped by the precise words of interviewees - this is no slick and frilly West End musical. Instead, lyrics are sung according to regular patterns of speech, awkward pauses and stuttering repetition included. At first it sounded quite unusual, but as the play progressed this flow of dialogue into song enriched the notion of storytelling at Fatherland's core. As Hyde summed in an interview, "it follows the tradition of folk music [...] carrying the legend of a person, a place, an event." Collaborating on the music with Matthew Herbert, an artist well known for his skill in crafting albums made from field recordings (see: his One Pig project), the pair also composed the tracks out of the sounds which evoked "memories of [their] childhood." Instead of traditional instruments, therefore, rhythms and melodies were crafted out of the soft jingling of keys, the humming of car engines, or the rustling of clothes.
The synthesis between this soundtrack and the staging was in itself certainly impressive. There's something inherently industrial about Fatherland, an homage perhaps to the postwar decline in manufacturing and industry of their respective hometowns. The stage was essentially one large, rotating, grated metal square under which soft, round spotlights radiated like molten steel. It presented an essence of emptiness, enhanced by clanging melodies which sounded like they'd been recorded in a vast warehouse. And yet the warmth of the human voice cut through these steelier soundscapes. Ranging from more delicate choral moments to rousing football-style chants, the togetherness of the cast, particularly in terms of their choreography, made for some particularly moving moments.
With raw emotion as the play's driving force, music felt like its most powerful amplifier. Fatherland's use of "twenty-first century folk music," through soft or vulnerable or powerful or aggressive male voices, was the thread which weaved together every individual narrative told.
Words: Josie Roberts