Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh – until 28 Oct 2017
Then touring Scotland
Guest Reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Our Fathers, at the Traverse to Saturday and then on tour, has a great deal of talent behind it. The end result is amusing and entertaining but ultimately somewhat too frothy. This is a collaboration between Nicholas Bone, the artistic director of Magnetic North and Rob Drummond, Traverse Associate Artist, renowned playwright and performer of such unclassifiable works as Bullet Catch and In Fidelity. Both are non-believing sons of the clergy, and the play takes inspiration from Edmund Gosse’s memoir Father and Son – about his relationship with his fundamentalist preacher father.
The book is merely a starting point for an exploration of parent-child relationships and religion, with reminiscences of Bone’s bishop father and Drummond’s upbringing as a son of the manse – or Son of a Preacher Man, as his classmates apparently delighted in singing to him.
The onstage personas of the two performers are quickly and sharply delineated. Bone is uptight, fastidious and determined to stay on task; Drummond is the over-keen over-sharer, eager to go off-piste, switch roles and involve the audience.
The trouble is that this does rely heavily on experience of Drummond’s previous appearances in semi-autobiographical works featuring improvisation and misdirection. It also fails to be fully effective this time round; the parts involving the audience seem bolted on, half-hearted and of little value. Moreover, the moments when the two performers appear to argue about the direction the play is taking do not ring wholly true.
The end result is often tricksy for its own sake. It is undoubtedly charming but ever so slightly inconsequential. In the end, questions about religious belief and family ties are tiptoed around rather than confronted head-on, with the narrative meandering towards an ending that has no real philosophical or emotional punch.
There can be no arguing with the staging. Bone and Ian Cameron’s direction is considered and gives the piece the weight the script often lacks. Karen Tennent’s set is both beautiful and functional. Scott Twynholm’s music is deliciously atmospheric, veering from approximations of a glass harmonica to spooky bleeps. Simon Wilkinson’s lighting suggests magically that onstage objects are providing their own radiance.
Such accomplishment merely reinforces the feeling that the play itself is more of a piece of whimsy than a serious exploration; diverting but ultimately of little lasting significance.