The all-male cast in a strangely intense musical ode to fatherhood has no baritone. More’s the pity as who doesn’t love a good baritone?

The bread and butter of Fatherland involves stories from a range of fathers, young fathers, grandfathers and single fathers. ‘It wasn’t fashionable back then’, one father says in relation to his status as a single father during the 80s shortly after his wife apparently took most of the family funds, went off on holiday and finally left him with the kids. He brings them up; having to explain periods and all.

One of the more joyful scenes involves a father being alone for the first time with his new-born. Just the two of them in the early morning and he literally takes flight to call out to all and sundry and maybe Mother Nature herself, ‘THIS IS MY SON!’

Many studies do, of course, highlight the fact that kids with involved fathers benefit. They’re less likely to be criminals, more likely to delay sex, do better in school, stay at their job longer and are less likely to gender stereotype. These benefits are there whatever form the father figure takes i.e. grandfather, stepfather and presumably 2 fathers.  In contrast, when kids feel rejected by parents, they’re more likely to be hostile, emotionally unstable or have low self-esteem.

Research is also a theme within the performance. The stories are gathered by Frantic Assembly, a team of 3 performer/researchers, whose role is explicitly challenged throughout the performance by the constant questioning of one of the interviewees (played by an actor). What will you do with the stories? Will you make money out of this? Are we going to see any of this money? Why are you doing this anyway? Though a plot device which sees the interviewee finally rejecting to take part at all, the question resonates. What will happen to these stories after Manchester International Festival? Where are those fathers now? Can their stories be used for even greater benefit i.e. comparisons with fatherhood in its present form or as an introductory text to fatherhood for high schoolers? The show covered key themes which might benefit young people especially. Each tale beginning somewhat wistfully with the question, ‘What is your first memory of your father?’  

One tale queries how fathers speak to their children with the father telling a young child to f-off in a moment of anger. Even when forgiven, he takes the time to tell his daughter that no one, not even he, has a right to speak to her in that way ever. An unseen father does not respond well to his son’s mental breakdown at university.

All of these stories broker the path that many men, young or old, will take over time so perhaps the most stimulating query that Fatherland engenders is simply this. With all the evidence in support of involved fathers, why are there still so few occasions and creative performances/plays etc that explore, celebrate or focus on fatherhood singularly? Like single fatherhood in the 80s, is discussing fathers and fatherhood somehow not seen as fashionable today? (RY)

- Reina Yaidoo

Links Relevant to this diagnosis:

Fatherland - MIF 2017

The Science of Dad: Engaged Fathers Help Kids Flourish

Why Dads Matter According to Science - USA Today

Dads Play a Key Role in Child Development