Skip to main content

Home Culture Culture Film & TV

Who Killed My Father review: ‘Hans Kesting is astounding in tale of a gay son and his homophobic father’

Ivo van Hove’s adaptation of Édouard Louis's 2018 novel is at London's Young Vic Theatre until 24 September.

By Emily Maskell

Words: Simon Button; pictures: Jan Versweyveld

Hans Kesting is so brilliant in Who Killed My Father that I wished I loved the production more. In this one-man stage version of the 2018 Édouard Louis novel, he delivers an astounding 90-minute masterclass in stage acting – playing a gay son, his parents and siblings with lightning-speed changes in voice and posture.

OK, so Rotterdam-born Kesting has a Dutch-tinge to his accent rather than a French one as he does an English-language take on Louis’s life story in director Ivo Van Hove’s adaptation. But he immerses himself emotionally and physically in these multiple characters with such dexterity that you never once lose track of who is speaking when.

Hans Kesting (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)

The trouble, for me at least, is that Van Hove’s staging is so stark and depressing – with a black box set that’s empty except for a TV set and a single bed – that it grinds the audience down. Smoke floods the stage and there’s a constant ominous hum even when nothing ominous is happening. Moments that should bring some relief, such as when a clip from Titanic plays on TV or ‘Rhythm is a Dancer’ throbs over the speakers, are under a constant black cloud.

Hans Kesting (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)

Based on French author Louis’ second book, the play starts out as the true tale of a young boy growing up gay in northern France with a boozy, abusive, homophobic father whose outbursts of anger have left fist marks in the wall. When the boy puts on a show in the living room, miming to Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’ with his siblings as back-up, his father refuses to look at him. The epitome of toxic masculinity, this most unlikeable of elders berates his son with hateful put-downs like “Don’t act like a girl” and “Don’t be a f****t”.

Hans Kesting (Photo: Jan Versweyveld)

There’s a gear change around the halfway mark, where the grown-up son returns home to meet the man who walked out on the family when the youngster was just five years old. His father is now a dying shell of a man whose body has been wrecked by physical labour, alcohol and cigarettes, and what started out as an exploration of a dysfunctional father-son dynamic becomes a rant against how the ruling class ‘haves’ in political office have made life unbearable for the ‘have-nots’ through benefit cuts.

It comes across as heartfelt but heavy-handed, although the rant is of course a timely one. And Kesting, as I say, is astounding. Whether sashaying around as an Aqua-loving little boy or coughing up his guts as a crumpled old man, he’s 100% believable.

Rating: 3/5

Who Killed My Father is at the Young Vic until September 24th. For more information visit and for great deals on tickets and shows click here.