Fatherland was born out of a conviction that there were stories to emerge from the unseen, voices to emerge from the unheard. The process took myself, Karl Hyde and Simon Stephens on a road trip back to our home towns (Corby, Kidderminster and Stockport) to seek out those submerged stories. Armed with a questionnaire, we set about to interview men about their experiences of fatherhood.
My conviction was that there was a complex concept of fatherhood in which I was merely a single pixel. Any pronouncement by me or any other would be naïve and limited simply to our own experiences. By speaking to others, a diverse group of people, we could unearth a more complex concept of fatherhood.
While interviewing people, however, I felt another voice or personality enter the room – my own paranoia. Interviewing people about such intimate and sometimes painful stories and taking their words to make a show unearths a complex moral dilemma. Going back to our home towns only increased this and led to some fascinating discussions about the nature of making work. It also had a profound effect on the show we are now setting out to make.
As someone living in the South East of England, talking to people in other parts of the country became politically charged. We were meeting people who felt that they were not listened to. The interviews seemed to highlight the shifting political landscape in Europe. Even though this was pre-Brexit, it was clear that people were keen to give the establishment a bit of a slap.
One of the themes that loomed large out of the interviews was forgiveness. Many forgave parents for weakness, for cruelty, for coldness, for absence. All were committed to not making the same mistakes their parents had made. All thought that their children held the potential to make things better. This optimism was startling as it was also entwined with a fair amount of negativity about the state of the world.
Something that struck me was how we all reacted when the men talked about protecting their children. When one uttered something like ‘I would kill anyone who hurt my kids’, we all nodded in agreement. Although none of us were consciously advocating violence, there was a moment of recognition that the thought of someone hurting our children inclined us to nod along to some of these extreme sentiments.
And this fear seemed to extend to the fear of the other – for us, deliberately evoking a Fatherland that is also our child which needs looking after and protecting from the malevolence in the shadows.
Does that mean that the act of becoming a father shifts your moral compass slightly, legitimising more extreme action to protect our children, our country, our values.
Of course, the image of Fatherhood we found was much more complex and sensitive than this, but I think it highlights a chemical change which can be abused. We met men across the country who were struggling or fascinated with what the weight and expectations of fatherhood brings. They were wonderfully generous, honest and articulate. It was a real privilege to listen to them but I also think there was also a real buzz and gratitude from them about finally being heard.
Scott Graham is Artistic Director of Frantic Assembly, and Co-Author and Director of Fatherland.
Fatherland runs at MIF17 from 1st to 22nd July. Buy your tickets here.